Posted on Mar 19, 2011

Reclaiming And Crystallizing The Pansy

The first flowers I bought for my balcony garden were Pansies; purple, maroon, yellow and orange in color.
the ones we chose to eat

Of course, they are adorable looking flowers because they look like little human faces and they remind me of those singing Pansies in “Alice and Wonderland”, but they didn’t mean much more than that to me when I got them. First, I planted them in a planter box that was far to small for their wild ways (they can grow to be 9 inches tall and their flowers can get to be 2 inches in diameter) and all their buds went dormant; so my girlfriend Whitney and I moved their long leafy stems to a huge pot we found outside. After several weeks of thinking they were just completely dead the flowers started to bloom again. With their new and improved home the pansies were going nuts, they became a wild creature of their own and I fell in love with them.

When the heavy winds and Santa Cruz storms came in (as they have today) I got very nervous for these petite, delicate flowers; thinking the color of my garden would get swept away and lost forever. Yet they’ve withstood every harsh weather condition thus far. They intrigue me for this very reason, hardiness; so I started on some research. When researching a topic I first want to know it’s formal definition. Here it is from Merriam-Webster.
1) Pansy: a garden plant (Viola wittrockiana) derived chiefly from the hybridization of the European Johnny-jump-up (Viola tricolor) with other wild violets; also : its flower

simple enough.

2) Pansy: usually disparaging: A weak or effeminate man or boy or, a male homosexual.

Not so simple to me. I’ve know about the connection between the term Pansy and it’s slur undertones for a many years, but I never thought about it before. I learned that ‘Pansy’ is derived from the French word ‘Pansee’ which means ‘thought’ and in Italy the name “Flammola” was given to the Pansy meaning “little Flame”. (That information I got from Wiki, so don’t quote me on it.) The flower has been associated with the human face and manner for a long time so I was eager to find some connection between the slur and the biological meanings. This task turned out to be a bit of a flop and I’m still left as curious as ever, but I thought I would share the minimal, furthest to date information I stumbled upon. In the early 1930’s New York’s fabulous gay, straight, you name it, would gather together in post-prohibition nightclubs to enjoy the featured gay entertainment; this era was called the “Pansy Craze” (Gay LA: A history of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics and Lipstick Lesbians, by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons.) Say what? Why was it called that?… Anyone?

Beyond that, I’m seriously stumped. I’m missing the historical link between an effeminate man and this flower that can withstand harsh climates, death, life, and death again, and on that note be crystallized and eaten for my very own pleasure. Let me know what you think.

Ok, that was all a side note, here’s the other cool thing I did. Crystallized my Pansies.

First, you pick your Pansies.
cute whitney and pansies

Then, you say goodbye to your Pansy.
cutting pansies

Next, you rinse with water, dry, and paint your flower with whipped egg whites.
painting pansies with egg

Generously coat with sugar.
crystallizing pansies

And Eat! Pansies are awesome, I think I’ll reclaim the word.
crystalized pansies with Ice Cream


  • Annah says:

    Strangely enough, I was JUST having this conversation with Paul (Spencer’s housemate, who also has a PhD in Plant Ecology). After I teasingly called him a Pansy, he told me how the Pansy flower is one of the most hardy flowers out there, and therefore, being called a Pansy should be a compliment. He is as baffled as you as to the connection to the pansy as a derogatory slur.

    So, I say… Reclaim Pansy, you go girl!

  • Aunt Kathy says:

    I had no idea what crystallizing was or that one could do it to flowers and I have no idea why effeminate men ever got called pansies…clueless I guess and being educated by your blog!

  • Bear says:

    Well isn’t that amazing. I’ll ask Michael. He’s sure to know about the guy pansy thing. And what great photos of your pansy process (as it were)

  • Carahe says:

    I with you in thinking pansy is one of those words that needs to be re-opted (de-co-opted?) by alt groups the way “punk” was – I remember when I first found out where that word started!

  • DAD says:

    sounds yummy!

  • DAD says:

    especially the sugar part.