10 January 2010
Parma violets belong to the more exotic branch of the violet family. First appearing in Italy, in the 16th century, most types of parma violets sport lavender flowers of varying sizes. The d'Udine, for example, features large, bluish-lavender flowers and a strong perfume, whereas the Neapolitandisplays much paler flowers, although very rarely - it seems to be far more fussy about its living conditions.
There is, also, a single variety of white parma: the Comte De Brazza. Hardy, and with a sweetly delicate perfume, the Comte produces pure white blooms, which in some climates, produce pale blue tips when they are exposed to plenty of good, strong spring sunlight.
The origins of the parma violet are a source of some mystique. First imported into Naples a certain Count Brazza took the plant to Udine in the latter part of the 19th century. There are no records of his work, though it is widely believed that he made deliberate crossings to produce at least two varieties of parma. One of these is still available, whereas the other one is romantically believed to languish in some forgotten back garden somewhere, just waiting to be rediscovered.
Parma violets are widely believed to be sterile, and there is much store laid by their reproduction through cuttings. Armand Millet, French violet grower, proved this belief to be a myth, however, and with the right conditions any sturdy and content violet could well produce a seed pod.
The delicate purple flowers of the parma violet plant also give their name to a delicate, violet-scented sweet. Parma Violets, manufactured by Swizzels Matlow for decades, come in a cellophane roll. Delicately scented and flavoured, the sweets are a cheaper version of the traditional cachou. Though their taste is, apparently, an acquired one, Parma Violets are undeniably popular; they are aimed squarely at kids, despite their peculiar flavour, although the occasional offer of a trip down memory lane must sell a few packets to more than one wistful grown up. As well as their original, diminutive form, Parma Violets are also available as a 'giant' roll, just for those of us who can't get enough of their chalky-yet-fragrant perfection.