From Eden to Babylon, gardens for thousands of years have inspired legends. In America, the U.S. Botanic Garden opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 1820 and still operates nearby. Michelle Obama revived gardening on the White House Lawn in 2009; A White House Garden Cookbook tells you more about it. A garden also inspires Alexandra Risen, who has just published the memoir Unearthed. The garden at her new home starts out choked with weeds and uneven stone steps down to a ramshackle pagoda. In restoring the garden, Risen comes to better understand her family history and her current life.
As part of the restoration, Risen harvests plants to bring into her kitchen, from Japanese knotweed to primroses. The book contains many recipes and gives foraging guidelines so you won’t confuse poison sumac with the kind of sumac that you can sprinkle into lemonade or zaatar spice blend.
To follow Risen along her journey to reclaim her garden, I am participating in the Unearthed Blog Party with the Book Club Cookbook and decided to adapt her Mulberry Granita recipe. A granita is a type of Italian ice that needs no special equipment – just a freezer and a metal pan. Risen used an umbrella and a broom to shake mulberries from her tree. I couldn’t find any mulberries growing near my summer cottage in western New York, but I did find blackberries setting up for a bumper crop. They weren’t yet ripe so I cheated and went to a supermarket for the fruit to make this dessert. I served it with slices of angel food cake for a contrast in color as well as temperature. It may not be exactly what Risen had in mind, but the tiny flavored ice crystals proved crunchy and refreshing on a hot night. If you have a mulberry tree, all the better! No matter what, the book will give you many other creative ideas for finding ingredients in your yard or other wild sources nearby.
Blackberry Granita (adapted from Alexandra Risen’s Mulberry Granita recipe)
4 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 cups black mulberries
Juice of 1 lemon
- Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until all the sugar is dissolved. Allow the syrup to cool.
- Purée the blackberries and lemon juice in a blender or fruit processor. You should have approximately 1 1/3 cups of purée.
- In a bowl, combine the syrup and the fruit purée. Pour into a deep pan (I used an 8-by-8-inch metal baking pan) and cover with foil. Place into a freezer.
- After 1 hour, take a fork and scrape the ice crystals from the sides and bottom of the pan. Fluff and mash them back into the liquid. Repeat 30 minutes later. You can continue to do this at 30-minute intervals, until you have dry separated ice crystals that are approximately the same size, or you can let it sit overnight.
- Before serving, let the granita defrost for at least 5 minutes. Scrape off ice crystals using a fork and serve immediately in a tall glass or a serving bowl.