Remember these? Frozen lemons volcanically erupting with white, sugary snow. Except I never tasted one. I saw them, ogled them from afar; they nested indolently – hard, little yellow bricks stacked in carts outside French bistros. I could never get up the courage to ask for one. Perhaps I secretly knew it was too adult for my taste. One bite and it would all be over and then I’d feel bad.
But at every port we sailed into in Brittany, I would go through the same internal dialogue, the slow build, the beginning of bravery, starting with, “Dad, can I ask you a question?” To which he would answer “Yes.” “Actually, it doesn’t matter.” Silence. “You’ll probably say no.” “I won’t know what it is until you ask me.” “It’s fine.” What I wanted was for it to be dragged out of me. My mind to be read. Perhaps if I just looked lingeringly in the direction of the ice creams he’d get the idea. But I was taken at my word, and remained lemonless.
Each port town we sailed away from – Paimpol, Tréguier, Lezardrieux – I would imagine finding the courage for the next place, and then the next. But suddenly – or gradually, tortuously – we were sailing back home, where there were no frozen lemons.
So it remains a foreign food, a still life. And actually making it myself, though it looks gorgeous with its lemon hat and sticky, oozing syrup, it remains something I long to see for sale. There would need to be barriers to acquiring it – a foreign language, a shaky grasp of the currency perhaps. Some pointing would be necessary. My own frozen lemon, paid for in cash.
Strictly speaking, I was talking about sorbet, but sherbet has more fizz, more of a creamy wave to it, so I have opted for that. To clarify, sorbet is the ‘mother ice’ from which many others have issued. It is made from a sugar syrup with the juice of fruit added. Originally, sorbet was snow infused with flowers.
Sherbert, on the other hand, is really the first ever recorded ice cream. The name is most likely an attempt at the Arabic word sharbat. It has a small amount of cream added to a sorbet base. It is light and soft, cold as hell, with a wonderful citrus tang. I know we shouldn’t think of those lemon sherbets – lozenges that melt into a sweetly-sour plateau on the tongue, the kernel of which contains an explosion of fizzing sugar – but I can’t help myself.
Adapted from Jamie Oliver, Jamie’s Italy
Makes enough for 6
200ml/7fl oz water
200ml/7fl oz lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1 heaped tablespoon mascarpone or crème fraîche
Pre-freeze a shallow 20-25cm/8-10 inch container (if you don’t have an ice cream maker), or the shells of the lemons, if you like the look.
Put the sugar and water in a pan and bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and continue to simmer for 5 minutes. Once the liquid is clear and syrupy, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for 15 minutes, then add the lemon juice and zest. Taste it and see if you find it palatable – it needs to be sour, but not horribly so. Add more sugar if you think it needs it. Next, add the mascarpone or crème fraîche and stir until completely combined.
Chill in the fridge. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, pour the mixture into your pre-frozen dish and return it to the freezer – leave it for at least an hour before you check it. If it has started to freeze, fork it up a bit. Do this every hour for the next 3 hours, after which it’ll be ready to eat. It can be kept for a couple of days in the freezer, but it will start to get ice crystals soon after. If you have an ice cream maker, follow the instructions, and decant into the lemon shells if you want to be a bit French about it.
Juice: Instead of lemon you can experiment with grapefruit, blood orange, clementine, or mandarin juice. A couple of tablespoons of sweet sherry (Pedro Ximénez has a strong taste of raisins and molasses) would also be a warming component, if the spirit takes you. Chilling dulls flavour, so taste before freezing and be bold.