As this summer winds down, have you finally had one too many ice cream cones? Ice cream is great and all, but it can get heavy with all that dairy -- and usually doesn’t utilize what summer does best: peak produce. That's why cooling off with a refreshing bowl of sorbet is a great idea. But did you know that sorbet isn’t a modern invention - but is actually something that has been enjoyed for thousands and thousands of years?
In fact, many suggest the sweet was the creation of emperor Nero during the first century A.D., who was said to send runners to collect snow from the mountains and then mix it with a combination of honey and wine. Marco Polo documented the frozen dish in “The Travels of Marco Polo,” after tasting it on his 1254 visit to China, and other sources claim that Catherine de Medici brought a sorbet chef with her to France when she married Henry II in 1533.
No matter how the trend of eating frozen ice emerged, by the middle of the 1600s, the nobility and upper class of France and England enjoyed sorbet; ice houses were built in order to keep the treat available. By the 19th century, the frozen dish had become a mainstream treat. The Book of Ices was published in 1855 in London, helping to spread the dessert’s popularity - suddenly, ice cream and sorbet could be found everywhere from the White House to military rations.
Today, all-natural sorbet has become a tasty and refreshing way to cool down during the hot summer months. And while basic sorbet recipes are just a combination of sugar, water, and some flavoring, the dessert doesn’t have to be a simple one-taste concoction. Sorbet recipes can be as fun and inventive as the backstory itself.
With summer produce coming into peak season, mix together some delicious seasonal ingredients with some not-so-common ingredients for unique takes on everyone’s favorite intermezzo. Herbs and spices help add nuanced flavor to sorbets. Try adding lavender to roasted peach; sage to grilled pear; or a combination of basil and lime to a sweet fruit like watermelon or a savory sorbet like cucumber. With any fruit sorbet, a little black pepper -- or better yet, Szechuan peppercorn -- will bring some zing to your sorbet.
Or, take some inspiration from sorbet’s origins and create regionally-influenced flavors. Thomas Keller’s famous tomato sorbet evokes the Medici’s affection for the frozen treat, while a green-tea sorbet would be a nice addition to a Chinese-themed menu. Also, a white-wine-honey sorbet would be the perfect nod to Nero’s supposed original frozen ice.
For great party sorbets, try alcoholic versions like orange-mango-tequila or Meyer Lemon Limoncello. These work equally well as a refreshing palate cleanser to start the meal as they do as an end-of-meal dish. They can also be made into fun adult floats by serving a few scoops in tall glasses of flavored tonic water. You can also serve scoops of a deliciously-flavored sorbet in Champagne, like that roasted peach and lavender, for the ultimate Bellini.
No matter which sorbet recipe you choose, make sure to keep the icy treat frozen at the right conditions. Sorbet should be stored in an airtight container in a freezer set below 0°F.