Wild Violet Color-Changing Cocktails and the Magic of Concoctions
When I was a little kid, my sister and I would play a fun game. It was called “concoctions,” and it meant that we’d raid the kitchen and/or garden for new and unusual ingredients and combine them in unorthodox ways (with just enough parental supervision and input that we wouldn’t actually poison ourselves.) Most of the time our creations were, of course, inedible… but that was never the aim of the game. It was through this open-ended play that I learned about the properties of different ingredients; that baking powder will fizz if you add lemon juice, that flour turns into paste when you cook it with water, that ginger will make your mouth feel very hot if you eat it raw, and so on. These lessons are ones I still draw from to this day when I’m developing a new recipe or trying a new technique. I know that bath bombs require citric acid to fizz, that a roux is the basis for many creamy sauces and even profiterole batter, and that spices can be used in moderation to gently warm and soothe a cold or sick body. You can, of course, learn these lessons in a more structured way by reading cookbooks or studying recipes, but there’s a sense of discovery that comes from experiments not tied to an expected outcome but instead performed through a manner of play.
Take a moment now to think of one aspect of your life that you want to be more creative in. This can be cooking, painting, sculpture, or any number of other pursuits. Then, think about what open-ended play would look like through the lens of that medium. Is it making concoctions? Throwing paint onto a canvas with abandon? Molding clay mindlessly, allowing it to take whatever form it chooses rather than the normal cups you sculpt? Set aside whatever you have time for - one hour is a good amount - and just, simply, play. You do not need to share your creations with anyone. You do not need to arrive at a destination. Sometimes this exercise may lead to new combinations or interesting discoveries, but sometimes it will instead just lead to a feeling of curiosity or excitement in the process, or a laugh over disastrous mixtures at the least. It’s easy to get fixated on results in our production-centered world, but playful exercises like this can do wonders to expand our hands and minds and open wonderful new pathways.
This is also a great way to get to know a new plant in both kitchen and studio. When you’re new to foraging something for the first time, the first thing to do is get really familiar with identification, edibility, and safety. It’s important to know not only what the edible parts are, but also any poisonous look-alikes or toxic parts. Likewise, you need to know how each part has to be processed to be safe and edible, and in what amounts is the plant safe to consume. But once you’ve gathered and instilled that information, take it into your creative space and just play. Take a close look at the plant. What textures does it have? What does it smell like? How does it make you feel? Open yourself to the sparks of curiosity: can nettles be used in a dessert? (yes indeed, here’s a recipe for my moss cake!) can I make a menu of entirely blue foods without food coloring? (sure can! Here’s an example of one of my events with just such a menu.) Your play can be supported by research, but it’s good to balance that approach with a more experimental flavor. Try cooking different kinds of food out of each plant (for example, a dessert, main dish, and side dish) to get a sense of its versatility. Or, try substituting it in more conventional recipes for similar ingredients (cattail pollen for some of the flour, or sumac tea instead of lemon juice, to give two examples.)
This approach can also be used beyond wild foods or art projects. Try holding in your mind a concept like “love,” “magic,” or “wonder,” and the using that to create something in the moment. Gather the materials or ingredients that speak to you intuitively, then combine them in a new way. You may end up creating a magic-filled object like a totem or wand to display somewhere special and remind you of your own personal interpretation of magic, or you may end up with a magic love potion filled with the flavors that remind you of your own experiences or wishes to taste and enjoy. Maybe your love potion tastes more like spicy chicken soup than the rosy cordial or syrup some might expect it to be! What matters is your own playful openness and associations. You may just create a new favorite recipe or masterpiece of art. And if not, it will be an enlightening or enjoyable experience in other ways. I promise.
It’s funny that something that once came so naturally to most of us - play - now takes a more structured format and clear invitation to experience. But the more you test the edges of your inclination for experimentation, the easier it will become to break out of the walls of perfection and productivity that adulthood seems to grow around us, and the more wonder-filled your life can become.
Color-Changing Wild Violet Lemonade:
This magical color-changing lemonade perfumed with the flavor of early spring violets was the result of such a day of exploration. I knew that a dye bath of purple berries would turn pink with the addition of an acid, so I decided to see if those same principles would translate to the kitchen. Sure enough, wild violets contain the same reactive pigments and can be used to create a show-stopping presentation - one of my favorite party tricks!
Violet Simple Syrup:
Cover your violets with boiling water and let steep for a few hours, then strain. For every cup of violet water, add 1 1/3 c. sugar to a saucepan. Heat over medium low until the sugar is dissolved. Cool. Your syrup should be light blue or blue-purple.
Color-Changing Violet Cocktail or Lemonade:
1 oz violet simple syrup
1 oz tea, water, or clear, non-acidic alcohol
1/2 - 3/4 oz lemon juice
Mix the violet simple syrup with the clear liquid of choice and pour into a serving glass. Serve a shot of freshly-squeezed lemon juice alongside.
Instruct your guests to pour the lemon juice into their drink and watch the colors change before their eyes!
See the progression of colors below!
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*New to foraging and don’t know where to start? Check out this blog post on Foraging 101!