We wandered into our amazing local ice cream parlor the other day and sampled delicious and perfectly seasonal blueberry basil sorbet. This particular shop, known for unusual combinations of ingredients, always has something so completely right for the moment in addition to its usual fare, which is anything but standard. I’ve been planning on making blueberry sorbet since the beginning of the month because our local berry season is in full swing and this gave me the inspiration to do it.
Not far from here is one of the largest commercial blueberry-growing areas of the country and we have an organic farm nearby where you can pick your own, as I typically do. The farm tents the entire blueberry patch with netting, which is intended to keep the birds from devouring the crop. However, the light mesh enclosure filled with tall bushes and climbing with vines, also creates an interesting acoustic environment. So there I am, immersed in the bushes contently fingering clusters of berries to loosen the blue orbs into my palm, and overhearing all kinds of conversations without actually seeing the people speaking! I should make a recording of this since the random simultaneous conversations create quite a palimpsest of messages, cadences and sounds.
Back to the sorbet. I haven’t made blueberry sorbet much, or maybe not even at all, so I googled it and guess what? Up popped a recipe – one of the few ever published — from Gabrielle Carbone, the proprietor of The Bent Spoon, the very shop we visited. She made simple syrup and combined it in a blender with fresh berries. As with the blueberry pie I made for the 4th of July, I wanted the sorbet to convey the freshness of the raw berries, so making the simple syrup seemed like the right idea. It also would allow me a way to steep basil leaves and infuse the sorbet with the herb. I added fresh purple basil to half the finished batch so that I could test which way I liked it. Honestly, we liked both. I particularly liked serving the sorbet with sliced cantaloupe, which complemented the colors, complicated the aromas and taste, and lightened the dessert.
Finally, I got the tip from Carbone’s recipe that I’ve suspected but couldn’t confirm: she adds egg white at the end of the frozen churning process to loosen up the sorbet and keep it from icing up too much. Other techniques that I’ve used include adding alcohol (kirsch or vodka or a liqueur like Grand Marnier) or a little corn syrup. I need to experiment more with the egg white since she says to add it 2- 3 minutes before the ice cream freezer has completed its cycle and mine’s too crude to know how much longer to churn. This little experiment was a great find for a month that’s all about the berries.
Blueberry Basil Sorbet adapted from The Bent Spoon
1 c sugar
½ c water
Pinch of salt
Handful of basil leaves, green or purple
6 c blueberries (2 lbs, 3 pints)
Juice of 1 lemon (about ¼ c)
2-3 purple basil leaves
1 large very fresh egg white
Bring the sugar, water and salt to a boil and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil. Let cool (15-20 minutes). Remove the basil and transfer the syrup to the bowl of a food processor. Add the blueberries and lemon juice and process until smooth. Chill thoroughly, at least 4 hours. Shred the basil leaves fine and stir into the blueberry mixture. Process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Add lightly beaten egg white to the processor 2-3 minutes before the ice cream is done.