Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wild Almond Blossom Ice Cream--And Yet

It is spring, I swear it is, and I am a nervous wreck.

I do realize this seasonal statement is slightly premature. According to my calender the first day of spring is still a week away. There is no rhubarb yet. There are no fava beans. There are no radishes. There were still no asparagus bunches at the market last week, and there is yet no sign of those wee green fists stuck to the branches of the plum tree, promising summer fruit. But (!)--*music please*--there are blossoms.

There are cherry blossoms and plum blossoms and more and more almond blossoms. We are surrounded. We are inundated. And I am just about to break out my faery dust. I've been obsessed with the idea of these blossoms for weeks. The ideas are fuzzing my brain like so much pollen: pickled cherry blossoms, tree blossom salad, plum blossom liqueur, and, of course, wild almond blossom ice cream.

And yet.

As usual, instead of being thrilled all the time and jumping into these projects with wild faery abandon, half of the time I'm just stressed out of my mind. There are so. many. things. on my very important list before true spring has sprung. List includes: eat rutabagas; use up that bag of frozen fruit I stockpiled last summer thinking I'd want it later (I never do);  sit in the sun while I can without burning; write while I can still focus; sleep while there's still no baby; make mole chili, citrus-braised lamb shanks, corned beef and cabbage, and short-rib pho.

Then there are the odd things on my mind: how there are still two balloons leftover from Mara's party bumping around the house, how I kind of need to go clothes shopping so I don't have to wear the same shirt for five days in a row, how I'm technically attached to not being a horrible parent and maybe should pay attention to my kid once in a blue moon, and how for some reason beyond all logic, all these things actually matter to me.

Leave it to me to stress-out over spring.

If you are still reading, let's all just take a big, cleansing, communal breath...

Now that you know the state of affairs, maybe you can understand that when I didn't get the recipe from the maker of the Capay Valley Almond Festival's Wild Almond Blossom Ice Cream in (what I considered) a timely manner, I started to sweat. That was after three days. I know. Eternity, right? As of today, it has been 18.

I met Camilla at a food writer's group in January and have kept in loose contact since then. She had mentioned the ice cream and the festival in group, and they sounded like they had potential. And then there was Camilla's fabulous self. She sat through the writer's group cracking and extracting pecans, and she talked of foraged pine nuts and wild mushrooms from the hills near her house. Now tell me that doesn't sound interesting. She's the kind of person I like on principle, and I am hoping my impatience (and anxiety) doesn't blacklist me in her mind forever.

This woman is doing things, and therefore she is busy. She keeps a bed and breakfast, is a big planner and participant in the Almond Festival, and sells a variety of citrusy odds and ends along with her foraged, hand-harvested pinenuts. When I saw her at the festival in February (and tasted her ice cream: delightful and flowery with a whisper of almond, but not overwhelming) I got her to agree to let me in on the recipe for the ice cream. She said she would email me.

So what did I do? When I got home that night I emailed her. A little too eager? Yes, I admit it. I've sent a follow-up email or two and she did say after the first one that the recipe was on its way, but I haven't heard anything since.

I'm not good at the squeaky wheel routine. It makes me uncomfortable, and it makes people irritated. And I'd kind of rather be the nice person people forget about rather than the persistent one who gets her way.

I can't help my impatience though. The blossoms are blossoming, and there isn't time to fiddle around. Two weeks from now and the blossoms will have fallen to a drifted death. I know we here in California are a little ahead of the game compared to half of the continent, so maybe there is still time in a broader sense, but most people living in the Yukon won't even have access to an almond tree anyway, and I want ice cream, so...the moment is now.

After I sent her the second reminder email it finally occurred to me I could just make up the bloomin' (ha!) ice cream recipe myself. So what if I don't have the Wild Almond Blossom Ice Cream recipe. I'm a smart cookie. And, what is more, I have David Lebovitz. I mean, I have his book. I also have this remarkable newfangled thing called the internet. So I searched, and I flipped, and I read. And then Kevin came home on Friday with an armload of almond blossom branches. Some things are meant to be. And even if peace and stillness and a calm spring isn't one of them, this ice cream is, and I'll take what I can get.

I might mention in closing that I can't quite tell (from memory) the difference between our recipes. If I ever see Camilla's recipe I'll let you know, then you can decide.

Wild Almond Blossom Ice Cream

Adapted from a variety of sources, but especially The Perfect Scoop

Camilla and I used wild almond blossoms, and she definitely swears by them. But I assume the difference is likely negligible in the flower (the nuts themselves are another story). If all you can find are cultivated blossoms, by all means, use them! If all you can find are cherry blossoms, again, please--allow yourself the peace I crave. Any stone fruit blossom is probably going to taste similar enough to the almond. Let me know what you try...

1 pint heavy whipping cream 
1 cup (whole) milk
3/4 cups sugar
two big handfuls wild almond blossoms, or about a cup
5 large egg yolks

Heat the cream, milk, sugar, and almond blossoms in a saucepan on the stove. Bring this mixture to a simmer, then turn off the heat, cover, and steep for fifteen minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk your egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl and set aside. Set a strainer over a large glass measure (or a bowl) and set that aside, too.

After the fifteen minutes, rewarm the milk to a simmer. When the milk mix is ready, strain it into the glass measure, pressing out the liquid from the blossoms as much as possible. Then, while whisking, slowly pour the hot cream into the egg yolks, then return the combination to the saucepan.

Over medium heat, stir the sweet milk mixture until it thickens a bit and coats the back of a spoon. Do not boil.  Pour the hot custard through a strainer again, this time into a clean bowl (or mason jar) set in ice water and stir (or shake periodically with a lid on the jar) until cool.

Refrigerate overnight, then freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.

Serve in small quantities with thin shortbread if you can, maybe even topped with a few of the blossoms themselves. (I like the look of the blossoms, but I do not like eating them in ice cream--very weird feeling. I sprinkle to serve and then push them aside.) Enjoy!

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