Genius Recipes

The River Café's Strawberry Sorbet

By • June 29, 2011 • 56 Comments

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This week, we're launching a new column from food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore that assumes the following to be true: there are good recipes, and great ones -- and then there are genius recipes.  

Genius recipes surprise us and make us rethink cooking tropes. They're handed down by luminaries of the food world and become their legacy. They get us talking and change the way we cook. And, once we've folded them into our repertoires, they make us feel pretty genius too.

Strawberry sorbet

- Kristen

That dastardly pith. We're taught to zest our lemons carefully, to shear off just the thin yellow top coat, so full of citrusy perfume and promise of martinis. As if, should we let our guard down, some of the bitter, spongy white underbelly -- the pith! -- might sneak in and ruin everything. (And sometimes it does.) So we dutifully leave it behind after we've had our way with juice and rind, like the fifth quarter of the fruit department.

But Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, founders of the famed River Café in London, knew better.

Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray  lemon pith

Heroes of simple, lusty Italian flavors (remember, they spawned The Naked Chef), Rogers and Gray realized that, taken in the right proportions, some pith would add depth but not bitterness to a sweet sorbet. So, in their London River Café Cook Book,they instruct us to pulverize a whole chopped lemon, pith and all, and temper it with ample strawberries and sugar.

The process is enough to convince anyone, young or old, that the kitchen is an exciting place to be. Just 3 ingredients make a series of quick, colorful transformations. In less time than you might spend watching babies doing funny things on YouTube today, you get to see not only what strawberries look like as they surrender and slacken into a hot pink soup, but also what happens when chopped lemon and sugar become one -- going from sandy to molten slush in just a few pulses.

And because this effortlessly dissolves the sugar, you get to bypass making a simple syrup, a step often considered mandatory in sorbet recipes. In other words, this is a truly no-cook sorbet. Score one for pith!

strawberry sorbet  strawberry sorbet

And did I mention that all of this happens in one food processor bowl? Not only does that mean fewer vessels to wash, but you also don't have to worry about scraping out the sticky lemon sugar that clings to the sides. (Is that stressful to anyone but me? Every bit left behind is like a small personal failure.) Here, the rush of strawberry juices washes away any lingering clumps (and guilt).

Now if you're eyeing your lemon, thinking it looks especially bloated and pithy -- or you're fretting that your strawberries aren't as sweet and dainty as they looked at the greenmarket, you have the chance to rein them in, by adjusting the final hit of lemon juice to taste before sending the brew into your ice cream maker (Don't have one yet? They're worth it.).

The London River Cafe Cookbook  strawberry sorbet

It's sweet and cold, with little pucker, and since you don't strain it, you get gleeful pops of seed and shreds of rind (of course, you could always pass it through a strainer if textured sorbet isn't your thing, but for the true, rustic Rogers and Gray experience, don't).

How do I suggest working this into your summer? Serve it as an invigorating dessert after something grilled and meaty. Or ease a fuschia-colored scoop into a glass of seltzer or ginger ale and go sit in the sunshine.

It also works as a reliable mood enhancer when you walk in the door hot and grumpy, and in plying children or anyone else you'd like to obey you.

The River Café's Strawberry Sorbet

From London River Café Cook Book by Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray

Makes 1½ quarts.

  • 2-3 lemons, 1 seeded and roughly chopped and the others juiced
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 pounds strawberries, hulled

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe you'd like to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].


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Comments (56)


over 3 years ago flgal

Just fell upon this column and am loving it. All the recipes look wonderful. Since tomatoes are coming in, Hazens tomato sauce will be my first try,peach salad next,as they should be arriving soon, and then the crust to hold the peach pie!! Keep them coming.


over 3 years ago rep_woman

I made the sorbet last night. It has great flavor, but a little too much texture for me. Too much lemon rind, and I don't think processing it more would have helped. :(


over 3 years ago Kankay

I've just discovered a new sweetener called Whey Low that is diabetic friendly but can be used one on one for sugar - read about it in a low cal ice cream recipe in Southern Living so ordered some! (Whole Foods carries, but not in my store yet). It's amazing. It comes in granulated, powder, ice cream, brown, and maple...uses whey protein. I made ice cream and gave it to a diabetic friend who has been ice cream deprived - she overate it (not my idea) but her blood sugar didn't react at all, even though there is a little sucrose in it. Tastes exactly like sugar, but lower carb, calorie, glycemic index, etc. This is an amazing recipe - gonna go make it right now! Thanks!


over 3 years ago lapadia

Wow, Kankay, I am going to check this out ASAP... Thanks for sharing it!!!


over 3 years ago tjp1951

interesting a diabetic, I'm always looking for ways to have something sweet but not drive my blood sugar sky high....have anyone ever tried this with non-sugar sweetener or a mix on non & sugar?


over 3 years ago lapadia

Hi, have you ever checked out raw coconut nectar – has a very low GI; I haven't tried it as a substitute for this recipe but have used it for sorbet, example here on Food52 under Blackberry & Coconut Nectar Sorbet (photo #2 is example of the coconut nectar I used). Also follow link to my most recent sorbet using nectar with strawberries. http://lapadia.wordpress...


over 3 years ago ChefSherry

This is the best sorbet I have ever made! The lemons compliment the strawberries so well.
I like the idea of using raspberries too. My golden raspberries would make a beautiful sorbet.


over 3 years ago Liana Krissoff

My husband's always making fun of me for using whole lemons and limes, but this looks so excellent it might change his mind. I can't wait to try it.


over 3 years ago Liana Krissoff

My husband's always making fun of me for using whole lemons and limes, but this looks so excellent it might change his mind. I can't wait to try it.


over 3 years ago CarinaTruyts

Kristen I'm in love with this new blog! I am going to send you an idea soon. In the meantime, I tried the recipe with the fruits of my berry- picking day, and I linked back here. Lovely! thank you



over 3 years ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Thanks so much on all counts, Carina -- lovely blog!


over 3 years ago sarabclever

I love putting in the whole melon! I'll have to use frozen strawberries as I think I missed the season here, or maybe I'll try it with another fruit!


over 3 years ago naidre

I made this the other nite, substituting limes for lemons, and a half a bag of defrosted frozen strawberries substituted for one pound of the fresh strawberries (because that's what I had!!). Then, I added about 1ounce of St Germain liqueur (elderberry) to prevent ot from freezing too hard. I also did not have the freezer insert ready on my ice cream machine, so I poured the mixture into a loaf pan, and put it into the freezer. I stirred it up every half hour or so, and in 2 hours, had the most delicious sorbet. I'm not going to be eating anything else but homemade this summer!! It stayed spoonable, but frozen, and was so refreshing. Thank You for sharing this recipe!!!


over 3 years ago saltandserenity

Oh! Lime and strawberry! Sounds like a winning combination. Great idea to add alcohol to prevent total freezing!


over 3 years ago lapadia

Hi naidre! I like to use a tablespoon of liqueur per each pint of base in my sorbet, too. Alcohol reduces the freezing point; makes the sorbet easier to scoop once it has set, as long as it lasts..which usually isn't that long. :)


over 3 years ago Risa Golding

This looks amazing. I will try it next time I have berries on-hand.

Nigella Lawson has a Clementine Cake recipe where she pulverizes the whole fruit for the cake. I haven't made it but it looks amazing, so the folks at Athe Ruver Cafe London are not the only ones who use this technique. It is genius though. Can't wait to try it.


over 3 years ago lapadia

Food52's dymnyo has an award winning recipe = Lazy Mary's Lemon Tart that also uses the whole Meyer lemon.....delicious!


over 3 years ago Risa Golding

I will try this the next time I get strawberries or if I pick enough raspberries at the U-Pick place. This sounds incredibly easy. Did U know that Nigella Lawson has a Clementine Cake recipe where she does the same thing? She pulverized the whole fruit, pith and all, for the cake. I haven't tried it but it looks amazing.


over 3 years ago Seola

Made this today with fresh local berries - simple to make and quick! Love that you only use a food processor to assemble - not much clean up. Will also try when raspberries are in season.


over 3 years ago saltandserenity

Pure Genius! I love the River Cafe, Last time I was there Jamie Oliver was also having dinner there that night. I was tongue tied.
I can't wait to try this sorbet. I have my Cuisinart ice cream canisters chilling in the freezer right now. I think a small scoop of this in a glass of Prosecco would be fantastic.


over 3 years ago Judy at Two Broads Abroad

You're off to a wonderful start with this new feature. Can't wait to see your next installment.


almost 4 years ago fearlessem

I'll be really curious how this goes for people, since my previous experiments with whole lemons (as in shaker lemon pie) were so bitter I found them inedible. Anyone who tries this -- please report back!


over 3 years ago Judy at Two Broads Abroad

I just finished making this and please do not worry about the bitterness. This is a little bit of heaven in every scoop. Coming clean here, I did lop off the ends of the the lemon that was pureed. The entire process took less than half an hour. Go for it.


over 3 years ago Kitchen Butterfly

Just bought extra strawberries, will try this over the weekend!


almost 4 years ago mcs3000

Love the new column!


almost 4 years ago Fairmount_market

I love the idea of this new series. Thanks for the recipe, an inspiration to invest in an ice cream maker.


almost 4 years ago msitter

The column is a very good addition to Food 52 and will help to anchor the sites broad coverage. It will be very interesting to see the recipes that are selected for the column. There are some real masterpieces out there to be tried and tried again until perfected.


almost 4 years ago healthierkitchen

Congratulations, Kristin! Great recipe share and a great new column for us to look forward to each week!


almost 4 years ago Anitalectric

Anita is a vegan pastry chef & founder of Electric Blue Baking Co. in Brooklyn.

Thank you for this recipe! Just another reason to get that ice cream maker I've been wanting.


almost 4 years ago calendargirl

Lovely feature, congratulations Kristen! I love the original The River Cafe Cookbook and had the good fortune to eat at the RC when Ruth Gray was still alive. She died a little over a year ago. See link for obit from the New York Times and other appreciations of her remarkable contributions. http://dinersjournal.blogs...


almost 4 years ago mariaraynal

Genius column! Great addition to the site and beautifully written, too.


almost 4 years ago Lemongrass

Looking forward to this wonderful column!


almost 4 years ago TiggyBee

Fantastic!! Can't wait for more!!


almost 4 years ago la domestique

I'm obsessed with anything by London River Cafe: the modern, artistic design of their cookbooks; their focus on simple recipes with fresh flavor; and their smart details like using pith to deepen flavor in a recipe. Love love love!


almost 4 years ago gingerroot

What a fabulous new column! Looking forward to trying this sorbet. Cheers, Kristen!


almost 4 years ago TheWimpyVegetarian

Really love this new column - what a great addition! And so happy to see you with your own column, Kristen!! This will be perfect for a house party we have coming up at the Lake - and I already can't wait to see what you post next week!!


almost 4 years ago Kitchen Butterfly

A few weeks ago, got 3 River Cafe cookbooks for a tenner. Boy, am I glad I went out on a flea market limb. Thanks again Kristen. Excitedly yours!


almost 4 years ago Kitchen Butterfly

Oh yes. Welcome genius. Bye-bye....failure. Pithless lemons. Welcome Kristen.


almost 4 years ago Sagegreen

Love this new feature. Sheer genius, indeed!


almost 4 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Brilliant...oh wait, I mean genius, new column! Very excited to follow your escapades with new recipes Kristen!


almost 4 years ago wssmom

This is GREAT! Thanks Kristen! Love this new column!


almost 4 years ago lapadia

Thanks for the new column!


almost 4 years ago KelseyTheNaptimeChef

A delicious recipe! Great new column!


almost 4 years ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Love this new column, look forward to more recipe's. Will be waiting every week to see what is featured.Oh and yes the recipe is brilliant too!!!


almost 4 years ago EmilyC

Love this new column idea -- what a great way to launch it!


almost 4 years ago thirschfeld



almost 4 years ago Emiko

Just beautiful! Love the use of the whole lemon, can't wait to try it. Looking forward to following this column.


almost 4 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

What a lovely - and lively - idea for a column. Looking forward to more genius.


almost 4 years ago debperelman

This is, hands down, my favorite sorbet recipe. I'm so happy to see it getting more attention!


almost 4 years ago franville

Love me some English strawberries but this I'll bet it still tastes good with fresh Jersey ones.


almost 4 years ago franville

I miss English strawberries but all of their recipes that I've tried in the US seem to work well so looking forward to giving this one a try. Time to fire up the ice cream maker.


almost 4 years ago drbabs

Barbara is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Hi Kristen. I'm so excited for you that you have your own column, and thanks so much for this genius recipe! xo


almost 4 years ago lastnightsdinner

Brilliant recipe, and I love this new feature. Though now I'm wondering if you can swap in other seasonal fruit for the strawberrries...


almost 4 years ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

I think raspberries would be so good -- and even more hot pink than the strawberry version!


almost 4 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Timing is everything in this life. I have a surplus of raspberries, and quite literally about to write and ask if you thought they'd work for this. Thanks, Kristen.