Scented geraniums are one of the most widely collected and celebrated herbal plants on the planet. They come in just about every scent and color imaginable, and their most common trait is their extreme potency of flavor and scent. They are used in teas, tinctures, baking and potpourri type concoctions.
Only recently have I begun to enjoy them and use them in my cooking. For years I shunned them as an overly potent potpourri ingredient. Their scent can be overwhelming in gardens, I have never enjoyed how they take over the scent of a garden. In my opinion, the scent and potency of a geranium was always a little too much to make any use of it. But then the masters showed me the way.
By masters I mean Laura and Tara, the most badass women whose herb prowess in the beverage world (and beyond) is unparalleled. This is not a compliment I just throw around. I have spent a lifetime chasing herbs and herb enthusiasts around the globe and feel that I am somewhat of an expert on the subject. These ladies are two of the four founders of Duke’s Spirited Cocktails in Healdsburg, CA. Duke’s also happens to be my favorite watering hole on the entire damn planet! These masterful ladies changed my mind about geranium.
I can’t remember exactly what cocktail I had with this scented little flower a few years back when my mind was blown and changed. I believe the cocktail used rose geranium, and the potent floral flavor was incorporated into the drink and the glass, garnished with some creative flare using the flower itself. Neither the potency of the scent or the flavor overwhelmed me for once. Instead I felt a gentleness that I had never before experienced from the plant. A soft and sensual experience from whatever I was drinking was all I remember, and specifically I was left with the geranium essence in me. It felt beautiful.
Immediately I thought, wow, geranium just needs to be handled properly, I should give it a second look. From that point on, my curiosity about the wiles of geranium began to unravel. It was pushed even further when judging the Good Food Awards. I judged jams, and the jam that touched my heart was the Geranium Currant Jam… wow.
I bought my first plant shortly after that – just one, though; I didn’t want to ruin my new love and over scent my enchanted garden. I chose a bergamot geranium from my favorite herb start company, Richter’s– because bergamot anything is my favorite. Richter’s specializes in culinary, medicinal and aromatic herbs, and they have one of the most unique selections I have ever seen. I highly recommend them.
This summer, that plant’s gentle and sensual scent has been memorizing me as I meander through my garden. It has become one of my favorite scents out there, it hits me like a soft whisper, like the gentle touch of a faraway lover. In a way I’ve come to think of it a little like me – bold, potent, sultry… hard to match and, above all, powerful. All of my culinary ideas which incorporate it strive to subtly fold its essence into something else. Like in my own life, I have to be careful merging my personality with others. I like it best with fruity and peppery accents, but I think it works really well with lemons as well. If I had a dating profile, it would say ‘seeking a gentle but bold, fruity and pepper man, tart and sultry.’
Big, gigantic disclaimer, I still don’t use the leaves; their flavor far too strong for my taste. Some potent parts of all of us are better left in the wild.
Summer Fruit Cobbler with Bergamot Geranium Sugar
Makes 1 9X9 inch cobbler
Last summer I wrote about anise hyssop, and I used it in a peach and strawberry summer cobbler that riffed off one of Smitten Kitchen’s. This is basically the same but with geraniums and accounting for the massive amount of sweetness in the jungle of berries I used. The end result is a less sweet, more floral version of last summer’s.
Cobblers are one of the easiest and quickest summer desserts to prepare. You can eventually do it by memory and improve with ease. Any fruit works. Others add nuts and seeds. I like mine rather simple – fruit, buttery dough, and some herb accents. For this mixed berry cobbler, I chose bergamot geranium, chamomile and verbena for a beautiful, herbaceous summer cobbler!
Sugar is usually added to tops of cobblers with a little bit of hot water drizzled over it. This technique helps melt the sugar a bit and those parts get a bit extra caramelized and crunchy while baking in the oven. The herbalized sugar just gives those bits a little extra something.
4 cups whole berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2/3 cup sugar
Small handful of chamomile flowers
Small handful of scented germanium flowers
Small handful of lemon verbena leaves, chopped fine
½ cup (½ stick) of butter, softened
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup milk
2-3 tablespoons really hot water
Heat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease a small square baking pan (I used a 9 X 9-inch baking dish). Mix the berries together with lemon juice and zest and place in the greased baking dish.
Using your fingers, rub together the herbs and sugar in a mixing bowl, until you mix them into a gritty herb sugar. Remove 2-3 tablespoons of the herb sugar and set aside. Add the softened butter to the sugar remaining sugar in the bowl. Using a wooden spoon and some arm strength, cream together the butter and sugar mixture until its fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and continue to mix until combined and thick. Add the milk a little at a time and mix. Once all the milk is incorporated, mix a little faster for about 30 seconds straight until you get a fluffy but thick batter.
Spoon a few blobs all over the fruit, making sure you do not totally cover the fruit. The fruit should peak out over the top in various sections. Using the back of the spoon, level out the blobs a little bit. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoons of sugar that were set aside evenly over the top of the doughy mixture and then gently drizzle the hot water over the sugar.
Place the baking dish onto a baking sheet (I cover mine in parchment paper) to avoid the mess that comes with the fruit potentially bubbling over in your oven. Place in the oven and bake for about 50 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
Allow to cool about 20 minutes. The original Smitten Kitchen recipe is adamant about 30 or more, but I like it still warm on my first slice so 20 is my go-to number that allows the top to firm up and get a little crispy while the insides are still warm. I like vanilla ice cream with my cobblers, so go for it.
Bergamot Geranium Szechuan Pepper Plum Sherbet
Makes 1 ½ pints
I have a fantastic ice cream maker, so I make ice cream often and effortlessly. Because of that, I tend to forget about all the amazing no churn styles of creamy desserts there are. Recently a dear friend gave me a pile of plums from her tree. They were beautiful and abundant, and I suddenly panicked about what to do with so many. I had remembered a roasted plum ice cream I made years ago using Szechuan peppercorns. It was fantastic, so I wanted to try and incorporate that idea again. I ran across a plum sherbet on Instagram by who someone also got gifted a bunch of plums, and so my idea coalesced and scented germaniums came along for the ride. This is a winning combo with the Szechuan peppers!
Before we get into the recipe, let’s discuss what sherbet is. Originally it was a cold drink made with diluted and sweetened fruit juice. It’s Persian and Turkish in origin and eventually when it made its way to the US, they added milk or cream and froze it into an ice cream like mixture.
My recipe roasted the fruit and then blends it with water and heavy cream, but milk can also be used. I like the heavy cream because it yields a richer consistency. By law (yes, there are laws for what you can call sherbet), it can only have so much butter fat. Mine probably crosses that limit but I’m not selling it anyhow!
Handful of geranium flowers
1 tablespoon Szechuan pepper corns, coarsely ground
1 cup sugar
4-5 cups of plums, pitted and quartered
1 cup water
1 ½ cup heavy cream
Pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Mix the sugar with the geranium and Szechuan pepper until pulverized and mixed well. We want the sugar to be infused with the scent and flavor of the herbs and spice.
Place the plums on a lined baking sheet. Sprinkle the sugar over the plums and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the plums are soft. Allow the plums to cool.
Place the plums in a blender, making sure to scrape all the juices and sugary caramelized bits into the blender, as well. Add the water and heavy cream and blend until super smooth. You will need to blend about 4 minutes total.
Pour the liquid into a container with a lid and place in the freezer for about 3-4 hours or until fully frozen.
For the ice cream:
Add plums to a medium saucepan along with sugar and water. Cook over medium low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until the plums have broken down and become jammy. Allow plum mixture to cool down before adding to a blender. Blend on high until the mixture is nice and smooth. Add in the salt, vanilla extract and sour cream and blend to combine.
Pour sherbet mix into a shallow freezer-safe container and freeze for a minimum of 4 hours or until the sherbet is completely set. To serve, let sherbet soften at room temperature for 10 minutes. Scoop and enjoy!
Geranium (Whole Lemon) Blueberry Lemonade
Makes 2 liters
There is literally no easier lemonade recipe than the recipe that utilizes the whole lemon. I like easy because easy means I have more time to conjure my herbal magic. That’s exactly what I have done here to the whole lemonade recipe. Juicing lemons is easy, but I honestly hate the task. On occasion, I make this recipe and, when I do, I always think I should do it more. I of course use the opportunity to add lots of herbaceousness.
I add scented geraniums which give the final cold drink a flowery and perfumy edge, and fresh summer blueberries give it great color and a tart and sweet balance. The final result is a beautiful multidimensional lemonade with a marvelous light and silky texture!
Yes, a whole lemon-lemonade is a bit bitter, but more people’s palettes are opening to more bitter as the rest of the world has been sipping and eating forever! So, try it, and if it’s too bitter for you, all you need to do is add booze – WALLA, it becomes one of the most gorgeous summer cocktails!
*It’s important to use organic citrus, as conventionally grown citrus has chemicals all over the peel to help with shelf-life. Some growers use wax, but the organic side only uses organic and edible ingredients – mostly beeswax.
4 lemons, quartered, seeds removed
1 cup sugar
2 cups water for blending (plus more for the drink)
1 cup blueberries
¼ cup geranium flowers
Combine the lemons, sugar and water in a blender and blend until totally smooth and frothy. Add the blueberries and geranium flowers (reserving a few for garnish) and process again until all the blueberries are smooth. Strain into a pitcher using a fine mesh strainer and discard the solids. Fill the pitcher with about 4-6 cups more water (you can also use sparkling).
Serve over ice with a geranium flower garnish.
Geranium Black Pepper Salted Lemon Cucumbers
Makes ¾ cup of salt
1 tablespoon super finely chopped parsley leaves
1 tablespoon super finely chopped mint leaves
¼ cup geranium flowers, chopped fine
2 teaspoons super finely chopped serrano chili pepper
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
½ cup Maldon flake salt
Pre Heat oven to 200 degrees F.
In a medium mixing bowl, mix together all of the fresh herbs, flowers, zest and chili pepper. Gently fold in the salt and pepper, using your fingers mix all the ingredients up, making sure there are no clumps of zest in the mix. Place the salt/herb mix on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper so that its spread out evenly across the entire sheet and flat. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until the herbs have lost their moisture and feel dried. Store in a small bowl on your counter for a few weeks.
Toss some of the salt over lemon cucumbers for a sensual and simple light lunch!