We get more publicity from far-out flavours like Darling Brew Weisbeer, banana & candied bacon (we did this one for Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants) and sweet corn & peach, but the ones that are often the hardest to develop, are the simplest: our fruit flavours.
The simple story: To make our fruit ice creams, we get in seasonal fruit from our local farmer suppliers, wash it, sometimes peel it, cut it up, and nine times out of ten (even strawberries!) we roast it in the oven with a sprinkling of sugar. Then we either swirl it into the ice cream, like we do with our roast apple chunks in our ginger & apple ice cream, or we puree it and mix it, roughly 1:1, with our farm cream custard, before churning it.
Key points not emphasized in the bare bone facts:
1. We are doing this all by hand. We don’t buy in raspberry pulp, we buy in raspberries, which we puree then strain through a sieve. Almost no one does this, because it is immensely labour intensive. 10kg fruit needs about 4-8 human hours of processing, depending on how fiddly it is.
2. Often we are getting in multiple varietals of one type of fruit (a granny smith versus a pink lady apple, for example), or the same ingredient from multiple farms (prune plums from Citrusdal and from Wellington), or even the same varietal from the same farm at a different point in the season – and like people, no two fruit are alike. So each batch needs a different amount of sugar, a different degree of roasting, and that’s all in the hands of our skilled and attentive kitchen team members.
2. 1:1 custard to fruit is an unheard of ratio of custard to fruit. Fruit is labour intensive (see point 1, above) and expensive. Even recipes for home cooks do not call for a 1:1 ratio of fruit to custard. But from endless hours of recipe tweaking, I can confidently tell you, this is what it takes to make a strawberry/peach/fig ice cream that tastes even better than eating a plain strawberry/peach/fig.
So. Why the hell do we expend so much energy in fruit flavours? It’s not to show off: anyone (i.e. most of our customers) who isn’t experienced in pastry (be it home cook or pastry chef) doesn’t realize that we are doing something impressive/crazy/revolutionary here. These flavours are simple, unadorned, naked. They don’t sound exciting, and the longer I make ice cream, the less inclined I am to try to gussy them up with other ingredients, although some pairings are so good (cardamom & pear, banana & walnut, raspberry choc chip come to mind) that I do give in and play around.
For me, it’s partly a statement of intent. I chose ice cream as a product to showcase local, seasonal flavours, and I can’t do that by just selling sea salt caramel and barley malt and coffee, delicious as they are. I’m immensely proud of the range of fruits we can buy direct from local farmers, and the quality that our farmers are producing with organic and sustainable farming practices.
It’s also because these flavours are, in their own right, delicious. Seriously delicious. And as I look back over the waning summer, I am proud of how far we have come from last summer, where we weren’t able to make a plain peach ice cream that tasted good enough to put our name to. But we’ve come a long way since then. With every fruit flavour we develop, we become more skilled, and the next flavour is a little bit easier. Last summer, we made strawberry, blueberry, blackberry, apricot, prickly pear-granadilla ice creams. In addition to those five, this summer, we made: nectarine, peach, prune plum, Genoa fig, sweet melon, mango, raspberry, boysenberry, Katawba grape. And each of them was superb.
And while I am sad to see my favourite summer fruit go, so sad, today Progress brought me the first test batch of pear ice cream from the kitchen to taste: Bon Rouge pear, from Lorraine Farms. Our first attempt of the pear season, and it was perfect. Seriously perfect. That ice cream was not vintage Creamery 2012: we were not experienced enough last winter to make a pear ice cream that good. We didn’t know that all fruit, not just berries, really need 1:1 ratio with the custard to create an ice cream which actually improves upon eating the fruit by itself. We didn’t know then that keeping the skin on the pear would give the ice cream that slightly tannic note, that slight crunch, that is so essential to the experience of biting into a ripe pear. We didn’t know that cutting it into larger chunks before roasting would give us a better balance of fresh juiciness and caramelized roasty bits. I guess we didn’t really know pears that well.
Yes, I make the best damn chocolate ice cream in Cape Town. But I’d never choose a scoop of it over Bon Rouge pear ice cream.