In southern Oregon, cheery purple violets show up in February and offer the first sight of impending spring color. The timing is just about perfect for me, as I make my own cider, and the brews from the previous fall have all been racked and are ready to age. I infuse a gallon or two with wild violets, bottle one to drink, and then age the rest. As the season progresses, you might find me infusing ciders with dandelion petals, lilacs, wild manzanita blossoms, fir tips, and more. So, by the time the following fall rolls around, I have a delightful collection of tastes that capture the wildness of the past year. These ciders are especially fun to bring out for guests and watch their faces when they taste the unexpected flavor.
The beauty of infusing ciders is that you don’t have to be a cider-maker to enjoy connecting with your landscape’s flavors. You can buy your favorite basic cider — sweet or dry — and add fresh or dried botanicals. The added plant parts won’t create another fermentation, but they’ll impart plenty of flavor.
On our homestead, my family and I purposefully make basic dry table ciders in order to infuse them with flavor from field and forest. If you also make your own cider, it works well to choose a time during the secondary fermentation to carry out an infusion. Often the botanicals that you add, especially flowers, will bring a little more sugar to the yeast, causing the ferment to wake back up. It’s ideal to add botanicals during racking, because it minimizes the amount of time you expose the cider to oxygen. You can place the botanicals in the bottom of the new container before you rack, or add them to the top of an existing container of racked cider.
Violets, violas, and pansies are all members of the Viola genus. They’re native to temperate climates in the Northern Hemisphere, but can also be found in a few southern locations, including Australia and the Andes Mountains. I typically use common blue violets (V. sororia) in my infused cider. Wild blue violets are one of the first flowers to appear each year in lawns and shady edges of forests. They’re sweet, and have a distinctive old-fashioned floral aroma reminiscent of days gone by. Despite their small, delicate nature, they hold up surprisingly well in a cider infusion. They impart a lovely flavor, leaving behind a wonderful-tasting beverage. If you don’t have common blue violets in your area, or prefer something different, any edible Viola can be used. However, take care that you don’t use African violets (Saintpaulia spp.) in your infusion; despite their common name, they’re unrelated to true violets.
Recipe for Wild Violet Cider from Scratch
Fermentation Type: Alcoholic
Primary Fermentation: 10 to 14 days
Secondary Fermentation: 1 to 3 months
Aging: 1 month
Total time: 2-1/2 to 4-1/2 months
Shelf life: 1 year
If you choose to make your own cider to infuse, start the process a few weeks before violets are in bloom in your area.
Yield: 1 gallon.
- 1/4 cup nonchlorinated water
- 1/2 teaspoon Lalvin 71B or ICV-D47 yeast
- 1 gallon preservative-free apple juice
- 1/2 cup fresh violet flowers (green sepals are fine)
- 12 ounces dry cider
- Using a no-rinse sanitizer, sanitize a 1-gallon glass jug and an airlock.
- Heat the water to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and pour into a quart canning jar. Sprinkle the yeast over the hot water, and stir gently. Let the yeast mixture sit for 20 minutes. Stir again, and then measure the temperature. Write the temperature down in a cider log if you have one, or on a piece of masking tape attached to the jug.
- Measure the specific gravity of the apple juice with a hydrometer, and the temperature with a thermometer, and record them in your cider log or on the piece of masking tape attached to the jug.
- If the temperature of the yeast mixture and the juice are within 18 degrees of each other, proceed to Step 5. If not, add 1/2 cup juice to the yeast mixture, stir gently, and wait 5 minutes. Measure the temperature, and if it’s within 18 degrees of the juice, move to Step 5. If not, add 1 more cup juice to the yeast mixture, stir, and wait 5 minutes.
- Pour the yeast mixture into the sanitized 1-gallon jug. Rinse out the yeast jar with a bit of apple juice, and pour the juice into the jug. Add enough additional juice to fill the jug to within 3 inches of the top. Cover the opening with plastic wrap.
- Insert the airlock, and fill it to the appropriate level with either fresh water or distilled spirits.
- Let the jug sit in an environment where the temperature is between 55 and 65 degrees. The primary fermentation is finished when 1/2 to 3/4 of the sugars have been consumed, which you can determine by noting an absence of bubbles, or by measuring the specific gravity. Compare the specific gravity with the initial reading from Step 3 to determine if it’s reached the desired level. For example, if the initial reading was 1.060, now it will likely be 1.030 to 1.015 or lower. Depending on the yeast, temperature, and juice, this can take 10 to 14 days, or sometimes more if the temperature is in the 50s or below. Taste the cider you used to measure the specific gravity, and write any tasting notes in your cider log or on a piece of masking tape attached to the jug.
- Sanitize another 1-gallon glass jug, a racking cane, and a siphoning hose.
- Drop the violet flowers into the sanitized jug. Using a siphon, rack the cider off into the jug, making sure to draw off all the cider above the lees, without drawing the lees out.
- To minimize air contact, add enough bottled cider to top off the racked cider to within 2 inches from the top of the new jug. Insert the airlock and fill to the appropriate level with either fresh water or distilled spirits.
- Ferment in the same cool environment as before for 1 to 3 months.
- Take one last specific gravity measurement, and calculate your final alcohol by volume (ABV).
- Siphon the cider into clean bottles, and secure the tops. Store in a cool, dark environment for at least 1 month before cracking one open. After 1 year, the cider will begin to lose some of its sparkle.
Recipe for Infused Pre-Made Cider
Yield: 1 gallon.
- 1/2 cup violet flowers (green sepals are fine)
- 1 gallon cider
- Place the violet flowers in the bottom of a sanitized 1-gallon jug.
- Pour the cider into the jug, filling it to within 2 to 3 inches of the top. Then fit the bottle with an airlock (though any fermentation is unlikely, unless the cider contains a lot of back-sweetened sugars). If you seal the jug tightly, you’ll capture any carbonation bubbles that might develop.
- Check the cider after 1 week to make sure pressure isn’t building, and release with a quick burp if the lid feels too tight.
- When your cider is ready to bottle, after 1 to 3 months, siphon it into clean 12-ounce bottles, making sure to draw off all the cider, leaving the petals in the bottom of the jug. Cap the bottles, and age for at least 1 month.
Kirsten K. Shockey is the co-author of multiple books, including Fiery Ferments and Fermented Vegetables, plus her upcoming release, The Big Book of Cidermaking. Kirsten and her husband teach fermentation classes worldwide, and host workshops on their homestead in Oregon. Follow her on Instagram @KirstenKShockey, or on her website, Ferment Works.