I am not sher what happened to sherbet. As a kid in the 80s and 90s, it was always playing second fiddle to ice cream. It wasn’t pungent and sour like frozen yogurt, which made some people dislike it. It wasn’t full-on fruity and as tart as sorbet, its nondairy cousin. And it didn’t have, at least in my recollection, too many fat-free or otherwise health-conscious claims attached to it, whether or not those were true (like poor Elaine learned of her favorite frozen yogurt). What it did have, along with a smooth pastel pallor, was a lot of flavors—and this was best exhibited in perhaps its most popular flavor, Rainbow.
But I never did see or taste a peach sherbet in all my upbringing. And I certainly have never made it, despite the many ice creams, froyos and sorbets I’ve concocted. (Gelato, I’m calling you ice cream for now—same for “frozen custard,” you Midwesterners.)
So let’s bring back sherbet, with an unfamiliar flavor: Peach! To savor the peak of peach season here in the Northeast.
Come to think of it, I think that sherbet is an essentially industrial innovation, a sad spinoff of ice cream that was left to fester in the ashes of the wholesome, healthy, real food movement. That’s my theory for now—and it’s partly because I see so few homemade recipes for the stuff. Now, after making it for myself, I have an even greater suspicion that food additives do a LOT for this frozen dessert. Because there’s so little fat in sherbet (milk, fruit and sugar in my version only), it’s hard as a rock after you freeze it. But once you leave it out to soften for about 15 minutes (unlike store-bought sherbet, which dissolves in a liquid pool after this time) it’s totally scoopable and slurpable from there on. And utterly delicious, in an unlikely natural way.
As such, it’s actually not like the sherbet of my youthful memories at all—but how much was this due to my using the unlikely ingredient of peach as a flavor? We may never know, as I can’t go back in time and taste a scoop of this peach sherbet to compare it with my staple Baskin Robbins rainbow sherbet. And how much of my impression of that flavor was due to the fact that I always got it on a sugar cone? Too many variables to say…
I quickly polled friends on Facebook to see if they still ate sherbet, and I heard a lot in response. Most didn’t eat it—some did, but usually, these folks had kids. According to Allison and Matt Robicelli: “Oh hell yes we eat sherbet.” But according to thirty-something Melissa without kids: “I love it, but I don’t think I’ve had it since I was a kid. Now I want some.” Pretty much sums up the reaction of a couple dozen people who chimed in on this question. My favorite response? Andrew of Boba Guys said: “No. But go shawty, it’s sherbet day.”
(A lot of the discussion around sherbet in the past couple decades or so seems to be not about its taste or merits, but how to pronounce it. That’s my takeaway from this informal poll. For the record, it should be pronounced just as it’s spelled: SHER-BET, not SHER-BERT.)
In the end, this peach sherbet was just what I needed to rekindle my appreciation for the frozen foodstuff. It’s just fresh peaches, a hit of fresh lemon juice, some brown sugar and whole milk. I didn’t even bother to peel the fuzzy skins off the peaches (because that would be messy and taxing, and I’m already going through the trouble of making peach sherbet anyway). I didn’t even notice the skins after they pulsed a while in the food processor. And you get to save not only the trouble of peeling them this way, but the vitamins trapped in the fruit’s skin. Win-win, or rather, it’s a sher bet!
(makes 1 quart; requires an ice cream maker)
about 3 large peaches, or however many yields 2 cups once pitted and pureed
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Heat the sugar and water in a small pot and stir until fully dissolved. Let cool. Remove pits from peaches and coarsely chop (peeling the peaches is optional, see above). Put in a food processor or blender and pulse several times, stopping to scrape down the sides, until mixture is completely smooth. Pour in the sugar syrup and stir or puree again to incorporate fully. Cover the mixture and chill for at least 2 hours or until completely cold.
Combine the milk and peach mixture in your ice cream maker and follow directions for churning it until finished. Towards the end, drizzle in the lemon juice and let churn another 2 minutes (this is to prevent it from curdling the milk if you add it sooner).
Transfer mixture to an airtight container and freeze at least 2 hours. When serving, be sure to let the container sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before scooping so that it’s not frozen rock-hard.
(for 1 quart, or about 8 servings)
3 peaches (at $4/lb): $5.00
2 cups whole milk: $1.00
1/4 cup sugar: $0.25
1 tablespoon lemon juice: $0.20
Five brownie points: Compared to the cloyingly sweet nature of most store-bought frozen desserts, this one is definitely lighter on sugar. It’s also completely made up of natural ingredients, and peaches are a great source of Vitamin C.
Seven maple leaves: This is a great use for peaches that are ripe but may be a little bit bruised and gushy. Enjoy as many peaches as you can when they’re in season locally, and get the best local milk you can find.