Adventures in Ethics and Science

We’re still a week away from Pi Day, but the break in the rain here has made me believe that spring may be on its way. What better way to celebrate spring (especially in the aftermath of a wintertime fruit pie) than a violet custard pie?

The violet custard is based on a recipe from The Savory Way by Deborah Madison.

The day before you’re going to bake the pie:

Go out to the garden and pick about 150 violets.


Avoid the ones with little bitty slugs on them.

Have a seat — preferably a comfortable one. Carefully pluck the petals from the violets and put them into a small saucepan. Do it slowly so you don’t lose the bits of the petals that attach them to the stems. This takes a while.


Add the following to the petals in the saucepan:

6 tablespoons sugar
strip of lemon peel (about 1″ by 3″)
10 coriander seeds
3 small cardamom pods
1″ piece of cinnamon stick
2″ piece of a vanilla bean
1 cup whole milk
1.5 cup half and half
(Alternatively, you could use 1.75 cups whole milk and 0.75 cups cream.)

Stir over low heat until the mixture is warmed but not quite scalded. Remove from heat. Cover pan or transfer mixture to a large lidded jar and put in refrigerator to steep overnight.

Go to sleep.

The next day:

Go back out to the garden and pick a couple dozen more violets. Pluck the petals and put them into a little bowl.

Put dough for a single-crust pie in a pie pan and bake for 5 minutes at 450 oF.

Bring the petal-milk mixture out of the fridge and warm it up gently in a saucepan over low heat.

In a separate bowl, beat together 4 whole eggs. While beating, pour in the warm milk mixture.

Cover the edges of the pie crust lightly with foil and put the pan on an oven rack. Position a strainer over the center of the pie crust and carefully pour the custard through it. Lower the oven temperature to 350 oF and bake for 25 minutes.

Remove the foil. Sprinkle top of pie with violet petals and bake for another 15 – 20 minutes, until custard is set on the edges and just a little bit wobbly in the middle. Cool on a wire rack.


Serve slightly chilled, and refrigerate any leftovers. (Before serving leftovers, let them sit about an hour at room temperature, so that the cold doesn’t blunt the delicate flavors.)


  1. #1 Comrade PhysioProf
    March 7, 2009

    Comrade PhysioProf is fucking drooling!

  2. #2 jc
    March 7, 2009

    Janet, you are KILLING ME WOMAN!

    I swear to gawd, I just got back from wallieworld with all the stuff to make the other pi! There’s no way in hell I’m starting a garden. Plants have unfortunate outcomes around me.

  3. #3 Isis the Scientist
    March 7, 2009

    That is beautiful, Free-Ride!!! I mean, I’m still gonna bust you up when I finally get a chance to get baking, but this looks fantastic and would be delicious with a cup of hot tea.

  4. #4 Alan Kellogg
    March 8, 2009

    Sorry Janet, but I cannot join you in celebration of the largest pastry. You see, pie are square.

  5. #5 Zuska
    March 8, 2009

    Holy christ that looks marvelous! you are an amazing pie lady.

  6. #6 becca
    March 9, 2009

    This makes me wonder how violet creme brule would be… *melts*

  7. #7 Super Sally
    March 10, 2009

    Did your mother never teach you how to pinch the crust edge to make it pretty?

    Come home for a refresher course.

    [But the pies all look yummy. Too bad they are so far away from Duke.]

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