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Nectarine Sorbet, Light on the Sugar

Nectarine sorbet, ready to freeze

Last summer when I had too many nectarines all at once, and they were starting to go soft in the fridge, I sliced them up and froze them as-is to dig out and gnaw on whenever the temperature got over 100 or so–which it did, often. I did admit it wasn’t a recipe, as such, and that if you really wanted, it might be worth blending them up for a granita or sorbet. But it was too hot to bother, and I didn’t care how silly it looked to stand around with the freezer door open just to grab a wedge and chill myself a bit.

This summer, luckily, I have the same problem–not the nectarines from the big Ralph’s/Kroger supermarket, those are still hard as rocks and have almost no scent most of the time. But the Armenian greengrocers get all the overgrown, just-about-overripe, bee-bitten and split-pit nectarines and peaches, the ones that aren’t perfect, hard and shiny, and that have an insane-making aroma when you pass by.

I always have to grab as many as I can, which is about eight or ten at a time, and hope I can hide them in the fridge just long enough to snag one for myself before my teenager decides they all belong to her and what are we looking at her like that for? Grrr…

Well–I hid them from myself as well this time, buried them under a couple of bags of fresh herbs for a couple of days, and when I relocated them, about seven of them were getting just to the point where I had to do something or else. So I cut them in wedges and froze them, of course. It was a lot–about a quart of cut-up fruit. And after testing out a couple of wedges, I thought, well, what if I try the sorbet thing with the rest of them after all?

frozen nectarine wedges

The only problem with sorbet is that it usually contains a lot more sugar syrup than I think it needs if the fruit is properly ripe. Three-quarters of a cup of sugar (150 grams) for a quart–sometimes just a pint–of sorbet is like drinking whole cups of Concord grape juice. Very spiky for a diabetic kid–or prediabetic adult. With the carb content of whatever fruit you use, it can add up to 35-45 grams of carb per serving. A whole large nectarine by itself has about 25 grams of carb, and at least it’s got fiber.

And the toothaching standard of American commercial dessert sweetness blankets the taste of fresh fruit until it’s not really fresh anymore. It might as well be canned. This is acceptable–just–for blackberries and raspberries, which are pretty sour if you don’t add sugar, and which keep a lot of their flavor cooked, but absolutely horrible for nectarines and peaches.

If you can get nectarines or peaches that actually taste like they came off a tree and not out of a warehouse, you do not want to cook all the wildness and tart freshness out of them (apricots–go for it; they actually improve sometimes with baking).

Given that it’s about 100+ degrees again this week in Pasadena, I also don’t want to cook a syrup (even though I suppose I could do it in the microwave in a stoneware bowl or my trusty old Corningware-Pyrex standby).

I have an actual ice cream maker somewhere in the wilds of my kitchen gear, but I don’t have the acute planning skills to clean it, stick it in the freezer overnight, and relocate the dasher and base in time to use it. So I generally still-freeze anything that I want to be sort-of-ice-cream-ish.

blending the frozen nectarines

I do know where the relevant parts to my food processor are, so I went for the slushie approach to sorbet: freeze the wedges of nectarine overnight, thaw just 25-30 seconds in the microwave so I can break them apart with a butterknife, stick them in a food processor with a little water, a tablespoon of sugar, and a shake of citric acid powder (aka “sour salt”), curse when the food processor doesn’t take the hint and get going. Stop, push the big bits down into the beginnings of slush at the bottom, add more water, try again, then once it gets going properly, break up and drop the other half of the frozen nectarines in, curse some more, add a bit more water and get it to rock. Finally. Then adjust for sweetness and tartness.

I find I can keep the sugar down–a lot less than 3/4 c. for a quart or liter of sorbet–and the citric acid powder (not going overboard on it) makes the sorbet taste more like nectarines.

Oh yeah–two more things. First, it’s obvious from the pictures that I kept the skins on the nectarine wedges, why not (I’d washed the nectarines to begin with). For peaches, you might decide to skin before you freeze, or you might just use a proper blender instead of a food processor so that everything grinds up finer.

Also, I weighed out the mass of sorbet once it was done so I have an estimate for total carb and can divide up by whatever amount I dish out at a time. For the amounts below, I ended up with a little less than 250 grams of carb for 950 grams total, that’s about 25% by weight, so a 75-gram half-cup scoop should be worth about 19 grams of carb–reasonable with a meal, and probably not too bad on its own at that quantity.

Fresh Nectarine Sorbet (relatively low-sugar)
Makes about a quart or liter

  • 6-8 very ripe nectarines
  • 3-4 T sugar, to taste
  • 1.5-2 t. citric acid powder (“sour salt”) or 2-3 T lemon juice, or more to taste
  • 1.5-2 c. water, just as needed to blend evenly

Wash and cut up the nectarines in chunks or wedges, pack them loosely in a large (2 qt./liter) snaplock container and freeze several hours or overnight, until hard (even when frozen they’ll probably still be breakable with a fork and chewable within a second or two of removing one from the freezer).

Microwave 15-30 seconds to defrost just enough to break the mass of fruit apart into individual pieces, not enough to thaw it. In a blender (probably preferable) or food processor, add about half the pieces and half a cup of water with 1 T sugar and 1/2-1 t. citric acid powder or some lemon juice. Pulse to break up the pieces a bit, stop and push the big pieces down in contact with the liquid at the bottom if you can, then blend or process more thoroughly for about half a minute until thick, pale and most of the chunks are gone. You may need to add another 1/2 cup of water to get it going.

Add the second half of the fruit and push the big chunks down into the loose sorbet, blend again, add another 1/2 cup of water as needed. Once the mixture is well blended and the texture of soft-serve ice cream, not starting to melt much or separate, taste a bit and decide if it needs more sugar and acidity. Dissolve the rest of the sugar and a teaspoon of citric acid or extra lemon juice to taste in a very small amount of water–an ounce or so, then drizzle in and stir or blend again. Pack the sorbet into a clean snaplock container and refreeze as quickly as you can.

You may need to restir it as for still-freeze ice creams and sorbets after about an hour in the freezer. My batch doesn’t look like it’s separating at all (as some of my “frozen last cup of coffee” yogurt experiments tend to do). When you go to serve it, you may also need to microwave the container 15 seconds to defrost enough to scoop–we’ll see how it goes.

Carb count: about 225-250 grams carb (25 each for average nectarines weighing about 275 grams each with a pit, so 175-200 grams for 7-8 nectarines, 45 for 3 T sugar) for this batch, which weighed 950 grams when done. So for this batch, about 25% of the weight in grams is carb for any portion.

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