Geranium sorbet (believe it!) from Alsace

Photo by Patrick Robert Doyle on Unsplash
The pandemic lock down and the arrival of warmer weather have me longing to travel but there will be no travel in my near future, that's for sure. So instead, I look through photos of places I've been and remember.

Two summers ago, Frank and I stumbled upon the Alsace region of France as we were working our way up the Rhine Valley. The Rhine marks the border between Germany and France and the history that played out there is the sort of thing that makes my heart go pitter patter.

Strasbourg, or Straßburg in German, is the capital of the Alsace and its historic center sit on an island in the intricate series of canals and tributaries that feed off the Rhine River. Strasbourg is a rare gem in that its central core was never bombed in the many wars that have rocked the hotly contest Rhine Valley over the centuries. Its timber-framed, medieval architecture is authentic and you really can eat in a restaurant that dates to the 1400s.

Strabourg's grand cathedral is the center of the city and its pink sandstone construction began in the 1100s. It's a hybrid of Romanesque to Gothic to Late Gothic splendor and it's a sight you can't miss. At nearly 500 feet tall, you'd be hard pressed to miss it.

The west facade of the Strasbourg Cathedral. Photo via.

The cathedral looms over the Place De La Cathédrale. If you were standing in front the of west facade above and you turned around behind you, you'd be facing the Rue Mercière. If you walked down the Rue Mercière about a half a block and turned to your left you'd see a pâtisserie and tea shop called La Pâtisserie Christian.

When Frank and I were in Strasbourg it was July and Europe had just embarked on yet another record-breaking heatwave. It was 38 degrees Celsius that day (that's 100 degrees Fahrenheit), and old cities in Europe are not at all set up for that kind of heat. As we were strolling down the Rue Mercière we came across La Pâtisserie Christian and on that brutally hot day they'd set up an ice cream and sorbet stand in front of their shop.

Everything in that stand looked and sounded fantastic and because we were in Strasbourg everything was written in French and German. The flavor that jumped out at me most was a reddish pink fantasy labeled "Geraniensorbet/ Sorbet au Géranium." I love geraniums and I'd never heard of making sorbet out of one so I had to try it.

I'm telling you that small bowl of geranium sorbet was an otherworldly flavor extravaganza that haunts me to this day. It was floral and tart at the same time. It was sweet but not too sweet. It had none of the earthy fragrance that I actually like about geraniums and instead it had a rose-like bouquet but without the cloying rosey-ness of rosewater. I was smitten. And obsessed. It took me weeks to get to the bottom of what I'd eaten that day.

The geranium sorbet I'd had wasn't made with the red geraniums I grow every summer. No, geranium sorbet it made from the leaves of a rose geranium. Rose and other scented geraniums are grown for the fragrance of their leaves instead of their flowers. When I go to the greenhouses for annuals every spring there's always a selection of them. I've seen lime geranium, pineapple geranium, chocolate mint geranium and so on. I never gave them much thought but duh, people grow them for their scented leaves. In the case of rose geraniums, those scented leaves make a rose geranium syrup that people in France, Germany and elsewhere use to flavor liqueurs, baked goods and you guessed it, sorbet.

Geranium Sorbet

16 – 18 fresh rose geranium leaves
1 cup caster sugar
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 cups cold water

  1. Put leaves into a food processor or blender, with the sugar.
  2. Process until the mixture looks like a green paste.
  3. Add lemon juice and process for another 15 seconds or so.
  4. Add water and give it a final good blending, then strain through a fine sieve to remove any bits of leaf.
  5. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer's directions.

If you want to make rose geranium syrup to flavor your own liqueurs, baked goods or what have you, use the ingredients listed above. Place everything into a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar dissolves and the mixture's boiled gently for around five minutes, fish out the geranium leaves. Then simmer until the mixture's been reduced by half. Allow to cool then refrigerate. Amazing!