Saturday, July 13, 2013

A flight of frozen treats

Recently, the folks at Tom Bihn asked us to make some different ice cream flavors for a block party block-party-at-the-tb-seattle-factory-youre-invited . We are excited to go and to see many of our friends - you're invited.

Our family tradition of making ice cream must have gotten out. David wanted to make sure any story about ice cream included a shout out to our beloved Ice Cream Boy freezer, which has its own freezer function and sits our on the counter, ready to turn ingredients into ice cream at any moment.

My first thought was to make a bunch of blackberry sorbet and some vanilla ice cream, our family favorites. But the idea of bee pollen ice cream kept coming up.

And I thought we could use honey as a sweetener for the vanilla. We found that Japanese knotweed honey was too strong and fennel honey was too medicinal. Mild, simply flavored blackberry honey was the winner.

Then it dawned on me - the common theme here is the blackberry. We can use its honey, its fruit, its pollen (mostly - we collect bee pollen but it's always a mixture) and maybe even the leaves. We can make a trio of blackberry themed ices.

When I moved to Seattle almost 20 years ago, one of my first cultural observations had to do with blackberries.

Where I had lived before, I had to beg and plead with friends to get them to come pick blackberries with me. They thought it was a waste of time, they fussed about bugs and dirt, they didn't know how to use the berries after they were picked.

Here in Seattle, picking blackberries just happens. People nibble them as they walk, or fill a bowl with them at the park. No one sees much bothered by the occasional bug, and although they may bring a bunch home and wash them, few shy away from eating them straight from the bush, dirt and all.

Partly, we do this because there are so many of these berries around. The Himalyan blackberry is a very successful invasive plant species. Wherever something isn't already growing, it pops up. The plants are pushy, thorny, and hard to erradicate.

The berries are not as good as the native blackberry, but they're still plenty good enough for normal purposes. They are good enough that most Seattlites even find the smell of the leaves appetizing, as it reminds them of the berries.

As beekeepers, the blackberry is one of the three main honey crops in our area. If it were somehow successfully erradicated, beekeepers would be hard pressed to find another nectar source so abundant in the early summer months.

Every Spring, bees get their first big shot of nectar from the maple trees, which have little, inconspicuous flowers but provide abundant nectar at time when little else is out.

Then come dandelions, which help out a bit but mostly give pollen. For those who can move their bees to the hills, the fireweed is another great source of nectar, but this is a huge round trip to make with a truckload of beehives.

During summer, at our low elevation, the blackberry crop is the source of most honey. We notice when the first flowers open, and track them closely. They only make nectar when the temperature is above the mid-sixties, and they only make a lot of nectar if they get enough rain. Rainy weather is usually not very warm. So - not every year is going to be a great one for the blackberry honey crop.

This year had been a good one for blackberry honey.
It's pale, sweet, low in acidity, and almost icy in its purity of flavor. Some other honeys have citrusy or syrupy or spicy notes, but blackberry honey tastes j like honey. It crystalizes very easily, forming "honey butter" that's great to spread on things, and then becoming even more solid, almost like a chunk of sugar. It was this iciness - both of flavor and in its ease of forming crystals - that first gave me the idea of using it as our honey of choice in ices and ice creams.

Then come the berries. Big, coarse, seedy, they only remain good for a few hours after picking. Then they grow tufty white mold. So when we get a big batch of them we process them ASAP. The seeds are big enough and numerous enough to be a real distraction in jam, so we tend to strain them out and use the pulp in sauces and syrups. But our very favorite is blackberry sorbet. The ripening season has just begun, so we made our sorbet using some of last year's harvest, which we can or freeze and enjoy all year long.

Blackberry leaf tea is used medicinally to help sore gums and to tone the digestive system. It's a mild astringent. Really I wasn't thinking about its health benefits though. My hope was to infuse the ice with some of the mouth watering fragrance of brushing past blackberry leaves and knowing the berries will be ready soon.Half the pleasure of blackberries is the anticipation, and to me the leafy scent is part of it.


Blackberries are so dark and rich in flavor, it's incredible that their honey is so pale and rarified. I love the contrast. If you make and serve this trio of desserts, I suggest enjoying them in the order they are listed.

We served them at home with shortbread, just to make sure they were good enough for the event.

All recipes assume you have an ice cream maker of some kind.

Honey Ice

The honey ice is richer than it sounds, and so intense it's almost painful. It's not sticky like eating honey. It has a sweetness that's at once over the top and rarified, like breathing mountain air that's a little too thin for comfort. It would probably be unpleasant to eat after the creaminess of the ice cream.


1 Cup Honey
2 Cup Water
1 Cup blackberry leaves (optional)


(Optional) Heat water to boil, pour over blackberry leaves and steep for 1 hour, strain
Combine water or tea and honey, heat and stir to dissolve
Cool in refrigerator at least 2 hours
Churn in ice cream maker until frozen.
Place in containers and freeze at least 2 hours

Honey and Pollen Ice Cream

The ice cream is smoother, easier to eat, and the bee pollen gives it a mysterious flavor that hints at fruit, dry hillsides, heat and late afternoons. It would be easy to eat way too much of this

Lots and lots of bee pollen!


2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 cup honey
1 T bee pollen
2 T warm water
1 t vanilla extract


Heat milk to near boiling, turn off heat
Stir in honey to dissolve
Stir in cream and vanilla
Stir together pollen and water, crushing pollen until it mixes in
Add pollen mixture to milk/cream mixture
Chill at least 2 hours
Churn in ice cream maker until frozen
Place in containers and freeze at least 2 hours

Blackberry Sorbet

The berry sorbet is a perfect finish. It's color is a great contrast to the two pale recipes above, and the taste is generous and maybe a little sloppy, like a big wet kiss from a toddler.  


1 cup water
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 quart blackberries
2 T lemon juice


Heat water to a boil. Stir in sugar to dissolve, creating a sugar syrup.
Strain the berries to remove their seeds. You can either:

  • Strain through a food mill
  • Puree in a blender, then push through a seive
  • Strain through the fruit strainer attachment of a stand mixer
Add berry pulp to hot sugar syrup and bring just to a boil
Remove from heat, chill until very cold
Add lemon juice
Churn in ice cream freezer until frozen
Place in containers and freeze at least 2 hours

Naturally, we wouldn't want to bring anything to a party that we hadn't tried ourselves. Noah - waiting to get a sample. He declared the ice cream to be good.

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