Editors' Picks

The River Café's Strawberry Sorbet

June 29, 2011

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

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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 sorbetstrawberry 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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  • flgal
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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


flgal August 7, 2011
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.
rep_woman July 18, 2011
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. :(
Kankay July 14, 2011
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!
lapadia July 14, 2011
Wow, Kankay, I am going to check this out ASAP... Thanks for sharing it!!!
tjp1951 July 13, 2011
interesting recipe....as 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?
lapadia July 14, 2011
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.com/2011/07/13/pink-pepper-strawberry-sorbet/
ChefSherry July 9, 2011
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.
Liana K. July 8, 2011
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.
Liana K. July 8, 2011
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.
CarinaTruyts July 7, 2011
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

Kristen M. July 7, 2011
Thanks so much on all counts, Carina -- lovely blog!
sarabclever July 6, 2011
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!
naidre July 4, 2011
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!!!
saltandserenity July 5, 2011
Oh! Lime and strawberry! Sounds like a winning combination. Great idea to add alcohol to prevent total freezing!
lapadia July 5, 2011
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. :)
Risa G. July 4, 2011
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.
lapadia July 5, 2011
Food52's dymnyo has an award winning recipe = Lazy Mary's Lemon Tart that also uses the whole Meyer lemon.....delicious!
Risa G. July 4, 2011
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.
Seola July 3, 2011
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.
saltandserenity July 3, 2011
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.
Judy A. July 1, 2011
You're off to a wonderful start with this new feature. Can't wait to see your next installment.
fearlessem June 30, 2011
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!
Judy A. July 1, 2011
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.
Kitchen B. July 1, 2011
Just bought extra strawberries, will try this over the weekend!
mcs3000 June 30, 2011
Love the new column!
Fairmount_market June 30, 2011
I love the idea of this new series. Thanks for the recipe, an inspiration to invest in an ice cream maker.
msitter June 29, 2011
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.
healthierkitchen June 29, 2011
Congratulations, Kristin! Great recipe share and a great new column for us to look forward to each week!