Times change, it’s inevitable. People change, it’s inescapable. The seasons don’t change. They come and go as they always have. Winters may seem a little colder, though in reality they’re basically the same as they have always been. It’s just that I get colder these days. Grown up, mature, Robert doesn’t “do” summer like young Robert used to “do” summer. Okay, so maybe “mature” is still a work in progress, but the point remains — summers are much different now that I am “adulting.”
I don’t remember the last time I ran barefooted through the neighborhood. Of course, someone would report me if I donned a pair of cut-off Levis and ran barefooted and shirtless through my neighborhood (sorry for the visual). But that was a daily occurrence in the summers of my youth. I couldn’t tell you the last time I rolled around on the grass for no reason. Actually, as I type that I wonder why I ever rolled around in the grass for no reason. Nevertheless, I did it, and I don’t do it anymore. It’s probably been 40 years since I drank from a garden hose in someone’s yard other than mine.
The summers of my youth were fun and carefree. I don’t ever remember complaining about the heat— even once — before I was 20-years old. Air conditioning wasn’t as important to me then as it is now. Conversely, if I were to make a list of the top-five things I am grateful for today, it would include: my wife, my kids, my health, their health, and air-conditioning (not always in that order). These days I turn on my truck, remotely, a few minutes before I get in it so that it will be cool. I sometimes leave my truck running if I’m only going to be in a store for 5-10 minutes. That is sad. I am a spoiled, pampered, wimp. Six-year old Robert would mock, scorn, and pity 56-year old Robert.
As I look back to the summers of my youth I remember being on my bicycle most of the day, playing front-yard football with my friends Chris, Stan, and Forrest, building treehouses in the woods, and eating pineapple sherbet at the Seale-Lily ice cream parlor near the park.
I don’t eat pineapple sherbet anymore and I am a lesser man for it.
My love for sherbet came from my paternal grandmother. She always had a gallon of some type of sherbet in her freezer. As the hostess of countless meetings of bridge clubs, sewing circles, garden clubs, Sunday school classes, DAR, and Colonial Dames there were two food items that were essential requirements in her kitchen — a pound cake under glass and sherbet in the freezer.
Kids love ice cream. My mother never kept ice cream in the house, so — in my early years — the closest I could get to a frozen treat was the sherbet in my grandmother’s freezer. She always had pineapple or orange sherbet in the small freezer on her screened-in back porch. I preferred pineapple. During the first six years of my life — a period in which I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich almost every day — pineapple sherbet was the most exotic food item available to me. It was cold, fruity, sweet and delicious.
Sherbet is not quite sorbet and not quite ice cream. It is the distant cousin of both. It is fruit puree and water like sorbet. But unlike sorbet, sherbet has a little bit of dairy thrown in. The consistency is lighter than ice cream, and the butterfat content in much less (typically under two percent). Ultimately, ice cream is mostly dairy and sherbet is mostly fruit.
My grandmother’s freezer had to be the origin of my love for fruit desserts, even to this day. I always opt for a fruit finish over chocolate at the end of a meal. I probably have pineapple sherbet to thank for that. During summer, a bowl of peaches or a small scoop of pineapple sherbet is the perfect ending to any meal. It’s cool, it’s fruity, and it’s relatively healthy (or at least compared to chocolate).
I was 20 years old before I realized the word was “sherbet” and not “sherbert.” I probably still mispronounce the word six times out of ten. OK, so I’m an idiot and a wimp.
Several years ago, when my children were much younger, I was trying to explain the difference between ice cream and sherbet. Neither were big fans of either. As an easier route to my point, I went to the grocery store and bought a gallon of pineapple sherbet. The three of us went to the park, and— using plastic spoons— made quick work of the pineapple sherbet. It was a fine summer day and is an event I remember every time I pass the bench on which we sat.
I don’t think I made converts that day, because I haven’t heard either of them ask for sherbet any time since. Though it gave me a good memory and it gave my kids a quick look into my childhood, sans the way-too-short cut-off Levis and all of the shirtless running through the neighborhood.
Let’s take a brief moment to thank our Maker for air conditioning and pineapple sherbet. Amen.
1 whole pineapple, cored and peeled
3 /4 cup sugar
1 /2 cup corn syrup
1 /2 cup water
1 cup milk
1 Tbl Lemon juice
Mince 1 /4 of the pineapple and set aside. In a small saucepot, heat sugar, corn syrup and water just long enough for the sugar to dissolve. Remove from heat and cool. Place remaining pineapple, sugar syrup and milk in a blender and puree until smooth. Strain mixture through a colander. Fold in minced pineapple chunks and freeze in an ice-cream maker following the manufacturer’s directions. Place frozen mixture in the freezer and allow to sit for 2 hours before serving. Yield: 6-8 servings
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbl sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 Tbl baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), diced
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup heavy cream, chilled
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk, for egg wash
1/4 cup sugar
4-5 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
1 Tbl fresh lemon juice
1 pint blueberries
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Sift the flour, 2 tablespoon sugar, the baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Blend in the butter at the lowest speed and mix until the butter is the size of peas. Combine the eggs, heavy cream, sour cream and vanilla extract and quickly add to the flour and butter mixture. Mix until just blended. The dough will be sticky.
Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Flour your hands and pat the dough out 3/4-inch thick. You should see lumps of butter in the dough.
Cut biscuits with a 2 3/4-inch cutter and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
Brush the tops with the egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the outsides are crisp and the insides are fully baked. Let cool on a wire rack.
While the biscuits are baking, combine the 1/4 cup of sugar with the sliced peaches and lemon juice. Refrigerate until needed.
Split each shortcake in half crosswise and place the bottom half on a plate. Place a small amount of the peach mixture atop each biscuit bottom. Place one scoop of ice cream on the peaches and spoon the remaining peaches over the ice cream. Place the biscuit top over the filled bottom half and sprinkle each shortcake with 2-3 tablespoons of fresh blueberries, serve immediately.
ROBERT ST. JOHN is a father, husband, restauranteur, chef, author, columnist, world-class eater.