By the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, a colleague observed, we’re all feeling “buttered out.” If the thought of producing yet another rich dessert for the celebration makes you queasy, think “ice.” As in “sorbet.”
Sorbet is basically a frozen confection of sugar, water and fruit. It’s a dessert with a past. One version of its history is that the Roman emperor Nero invented sorbet in the first century A.D., when he positioned runners along the Appian Way to pass buckets of snow to the banquet hall, where it was mixed with honey and wine.
This story is appealing, but it is not even mentioned in Alan Davidson’s encyclopedic “Oxford Companion to Food,” which devotes more than a page to the dish. The Nero story may be apocryphal.
Davidson says the word “sherbet” (also spelled “sherbert”) dates from at least the early Middle Ages in Turkey and Syria. “Sharab,” the Arab word for a sweetened drink, became associated with alcoholic beverages, so a new word was needed for nonalcoholic drinks: “sharbat.” It moved into Italy as “sorbetto,” into France as “sorbet” and into England and North America as “sherbet?sherbert.” Sometime in the 19th century, sorbet?sherbet became a frozen dessert, not a drink, and alcohol was often added. Furthermore, in some parts of the United States, sherbet?sherbert contains milk.
The desserts here are all based on the classic sugar-water-fruit model, with alcohol thrown in. Call them what you will; “ice” is nice. They make a sweet, flavorful and light ending to a festive meal.
Note: If you don’t have an ice cream maker, freeze the mixture in a covered container overnight. The next morning, chop into chunks and puree in the bowl of a food processor until smooth. Place in container, cover and freeze for at least five hours and up to one week.