With every plus comes a minus and with gardening comes a lot of weeding. During my first round back in late March, when the bed looked like this, I found an awful lot of what looked like mint in the bed and let out a big, long profanity-laced groan. Mint, to all those who are not familiar with gardening, is a plague and a pest and very hard to get rid of. The only nice thing about weeding out the mint is that your hands become nicely scented with the stuff after a few spherical rounds of root-pulling. When I began weeding in the squash and melon bed, what looked like mint left my hands smelling like lemon-scented dish detergent. Turns out that my pest is from the same family but goes by a different name: Lemon Balm.
Lemon balm grows all over the yard, and it looks similar to catnip or mint. Often it crops up before mint in the early season, and when not on a mission to seek and destroy, its leaves make an insanely delicious tisane.
Ever since I started making my own ice cream two years ago, I’ve made a game of playing with new and unusual flavors. Lemon balm seemed like a natural choice, and on a day last week where I was weeding a bunch out anyway, I snipped some leaves and took them home to steep in the custard. The ice cream wasn’t soap-y tasting in the least, but does take on a subtle round citrus flavor that makes an elegant (and easy!) dessert served alongside a handful of fresh berries. It's been so hot here for the past week that I can't really do anything in my apartment but sit in a cool bath with a book and scoop of this ice cream. I'll manage.
Lemon Balm Ice Creamadapted from David Lebowitz's recipeINGREDIENTS:2 cups fresh lemon balm leaves, rinsed & dried1 1/2 cups whole milk1 1/2 cups heavy cream3/4 cup sugar6 large egg yolkspinch of saltDIRECTIONS:1. In a medium saucepan, warm the lemon balm leaves with the milk,1/2 cup (125ml) of the cream, and the sugar.2. Once warm, remove from heat, cover, and let steep for one hour.3. To make the ice cream custard, pour the remaining cream into a large bowl set in a larger bowl of ice water, and put a mesh strainer on top.4. Use a strainer or slotted spoon to skim the lemon balm from the milk and squeeze the leaves to extract as much liquid as possible back into the saucepan, then discard them. Rewarm the lemon verbena custard, then whisk the eggs together and slowing pour in the warm infusion, whisking constantly.5. Scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan and cook, stirring continuously with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon. Keep your eye on it so it doesn't curdle. When it's ready, you should be able to drag your finger across the back of the spoon and see a clear line.6. Immediately strain the custard into the bowl of cream. Stir until cool.7. Chill thoroughly, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Enjoy!YIELD: 1 Quart.