For many of us Memorial Day signifies the official start of Summer. And while our calendars tell us that Summer doesn’t really kick off for another few weeks, in my mind it has already arrived. Strawberries have arrived at the farmers’ market.
I look to strawberries to signal Summer’s approach, and as soon as they appear at the farm stand, I proclaim it to be summer and proceed with all kinds of strawberry shenanigans. Last year they were added to a blueberry pie (technically making it strawberry blueberry pie), were introduced to buttermilk granita, and folded into a dimply buttermilk cake. The year before, they played a leading role in a shortcake production.
Most often, however, we eat our strawberries plain, gently cleaned with a wet towel, and often dipped in heavy cream. But I’m always tempted to make them into something that highlights their fragrance, their natural abundance of juice, their summer sweetness. It is impossible to bite into a ripe summer strawberry and not break into a smile.
It just so happens that oftentimes Memorial Day coincides with strawberries’ seasonal return? Hooray! It’s time for sundresses and flip-flops and lazy lemonades and grilling. Time to leave your house with sopping wet hair (it’ll cool you off on a sweltering day); time to get your picnic on; and time for sorbet – strawberry sorbet to be precise. Maybe even strawberry sorbet with a subtle hint of basil to brighten it up.
Sorbets, compared to ice creams, are easy-peasy – with only the waiting time to slow you down. There are no temperamental egg-custards to deal with – just fruit, sugar, maybe a dash of vodka or liqueur, and your trusty, dependable ice cream machine. I think they go over easier too, especially on those days when the just the idea of a creamy dessert makes you sluggish.
And best of all – sorbet is a fantastic, lovely way to highlight strawberries at the peak of their season, bursting with the kind of summery sweetness nature allows only for a few (unfairly) short weeks. Maybe you can whip up a batch this holiday weekend, and start off your summer on a sweet note.
Strawberry Basil Sorbet
1 cup sugar
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
1 pound strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons vodka
1. To make basil simple syrup, in a small pot over medium heat, combine 1 cup water, the sugar and basil leaves and bring to a boil. Remove from heat; steep 15 minutes, then strain the syrup into a clean container. Bring to room temperature or refrigerate until cold.
2. Puree the strawberries in the food processor until smooth. Add the lemon juice, vodka and 3/4 cups of the basil simple syrup and pulse to combine. Chill the mixture for 1 hour in the refrigerator.
3. Pour the chilled strawberry mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.
4. Spoon the sorbet into a container and freeze for 4 hours to firm up.
Makes about 1 pint.