S is for … Sorbet

The recent spell of half decent weather has cheered up the general population - but not nearly as much as it's brought a smile to the faces of ice cream makers and sellers.

Observing the eating of ice cream in the street is very much like watching the growth cycle of the average homo sapiens. When you're wee, a cone is hard to handle. Slow eating allows it to melt leaving you in a right sticky mess. There probably isn't a person alive who, while attempting to redress that balance, hasn't overdone it, causing the whole scoop to fall to the ground. Fortunately, that's usually in the days before your cognitive memory has formed. As a result, that generally is not one of the things that leaves a mental scar for life. Trust me, there will be plenty of others.

Then regard the young lovers looking and licking lasciviously in anticipation of (yes, we get it, - Ed). And folk of a certain age, comfortable both in their skins and in their cone control. For some, that's the best that it can get. Sadly, like life, ice cream eating can go downhill. In Rome I recently witnessed an older man emerging from a gelateria, walking stick in one hand, ice cream in the other. But for some reason he had bought a tub with a little wooden spoon. The mounting panic on his face as he failed to find anywhere to sit in 30 degree heat was proof positive that our mental sharpness does fail with age.

The relevance of all of this? Well in each case we're talking ice cream, thickened with milk or cream, or seaweed powder or something synthetic. But long before there was ice cream there was SORBET.

We'll look at a recipe or two on Friday, but sorbet is the simplest form of frozen dessert. These days it involves fruit purée, sugar and water. In earlier times, wine (much sweeter then than now), liqueurs or honey might have been involved. Sorbet can be traced back nearly 3000 years to Persia, modern day Iran. The only problem is the chilly bit.

Snow was the obvious answer. While we associate desert countries with extreme heat, the weather can be bitterly cold. The only trouble is that once you get your frozen concoction to the sheikh's tent it may have gone a bit liquid. No coincidence then that the Arabic word shariba means to drink. And from shariba you got the Turkish chorbet, from which derived the Italian sorbetto and the French sorbet. In some cultures sherbet and sorbet are interchangeable. In Britain, for a long time we used the frightfully dull term, water ice.

The rise in popularity of ice creams and sorbets came as a result of the development of the ice trade. That's been the subject of entire books in its own right. I touched on it a wee bit a few years ago in I is for Ice Cream. Read it here if you're interested,

You're more likely to find sorbet in France or Italy. Whisper it, but I think the French have the edge. They became popular during those grotesquely gluttonous dinners which were the fashion in high society. Auguste Escoffier said of sorbets, they are very light and barely congealed ices, served after the entrées. They serve in freshening the stomach and preparing it to properly receive the roast. They are appetizers and help to aid digestion. (The split infinitive is his, not mine.)

I'm glad to say they're becoming more common here, though I think the fact that they melt very quickly may be a reason why they lag behind what we now consider to be the traditional stuff. We'll look at sorbets and granitas a bit more in Friday's Tom Cooks! The good news is that you won't need an ice cream maker.


1 Comment

  1. Wendy Barrie on 16th May 2024 at 4:44 pm

    You gave me the notion & I ordered sorbet for dessert last night! Delicious.

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