What to CookIce Cream & Frozen DessertsItalian Cooking

A Spiced Cherry Sorbet from the 19th Century, Adapted for This Summer

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As the weather warms up to a steady heatwave, gelato becomes almost a meal of its own in our household, especially when it is homemade. Strawberries and cherries have been particularly popular, soon peach and cantaloupe will find their way into our freezer too.

Like my favourite jam recipes, my favourite gelato or sorbet recipes come from an old, nineteenth century Italian cookbook, Pellegrino Artusi's Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. The chapter on gelati—Artusi does not distinguish between gelato and sorbet, calling all frozen fruit sorbet “gelato” as well—is full of recipes that are simple and practical, a way to preserve the season, much like you would any jam or conserve. The most important rule is the same: Use good, perfectly ripe fruit.

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Black cherry and cinnamon gelato
Black cherry and cinnamon gelato Photo by Emiko Davies

There's strawberry gelato (with a squeeze of orange juice), peach gelato (where the almond-like seed hidden inside the peach pits are ground together with sugar), even chestnut gelato (with a hint of vanilla). In the gelato made from visciole, or sour cherries, the fruit is infused with a stick of cinnamon, which gives a strong background note of spicy sweetness.

Black cherry and cinnamon gelato
Black cherry and cinnamon gelato Photo by Emiko Davies

Small and thin-skinned, sour cherries certainly live up to their name; very mature ones are as sour as lemons. Sadly, fresh sour cherries are more difficult to find than the dark, almost black cherries that are as sweet as candy. They're almost like two completely different fruits, and the latter, at the height of their season, are usually best simply popped straight into the mouth one after the other. But when you swap sweet black cherries for the sour cherries in Artusi's gelato recipe, the result seems to be a more decadent sorbet, with a more intense cinnamon flavor, perhaps because it is decidedly sweeter. You can use less sugar—just a bit, not too much, as the sugar helps the sorbet maintain its smooth consistency even while frozen—and a hint of lemon adds a welcome sharpness that the sweet cherries otherwise lack.

Photo by Emiko Davies

I once served it to Tessa Kiros, whose cookbooks are peppered with wonderful, feminine, and unexpected pairings like passionfruit and chocolate or coffee and cassia, and she immediately suggested a drizzle of fresh cream over the top. It swirled through the melting gelato, subtly changing, rounding out and softening the intense, jewel-coloured gelato, all for the better. I highly recommend trying it.

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Black cherry and cinnamon sorbet

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Serves 6
  • 2 pounds fresh, ripe cherries, rinsed and pitted
  • 1 cup sugar (or less to taste), see note
  • 3/4 cup water (or white wine)
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
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Tags: Italy, Regional Italian Food, Artusi, cookbooks, cherries, summer, cinnamon, sorbet, gelato, frozen desserts