The challenge: Bring something with a foraged ingredient.
My answer: Eucalyptus. Eucalyptus ice cream!
Large sweeping decks, graced with fallen leaves from tall eucalyptus trees, filled the backyard of a house in San Pablo. My parents had nicknamed this house, “Silver house” for the Silver family that according to family lore were the worst tenants in their lives as landlords. They had destroyed the walls and carpets. They stopped paying rent. As a six-year-old during that time, I played on the long decks with my sister as our parents dealt with the mess. Fog rolled across the bay and touched the tips of the trees. Through the trees, a distant land mass peeked from the body of water. Was it San Francisco or Marin County? I don’t know. What I do remember is the scent of fallen eucalyptus leaves—a cool, calming smell in the midst of the fury and anger that my parents endured as landlords.
So when a friend’s sister sent out a birthday invitation declaring a theme of forage and forest. I knew. Initially, I was going to do something sane like rosemary. But how would find rosemary in the bushes? But perhaps it should be the pineapple guava. Like how I used to pick them up as a kid riding my bike around the neighborhood. Instead, I opted for a prevalent San Francisco tree. Native to Australia, eucalyptus was planted in the Bay Area as part of a “hardwood boom”. A hope that eucalyptus would provide fast-growing, cheap wood. The rumor was abolished several years later. What’s left are the groves throughout the Bay Area in the East Bay hills, the parks of San Francisco, and more. Known to be great at absorbing water, it helped with the swamplands in San Francisco. Beneficial or destructive? Who knows?
We went to John McLaren Park (the closest park to me), which along with Golden Gate Park, the largest city parks. When we arrived at a secluded street near dusk, we realized something: dry leaves are on the ground and fresh leaves are still on the tree. And most importantly, the leaves on eucalyptus trees are higher than a human can reach. So we gazed up at the trees, its shadows casting its giant figures over our small human form. What then? Ask me in person.
When I served it at the birthday party, everyone was reminded of eucalyptus honey cough drops. But paired with a chocolate forest cake, the “fresh” ice cream perfectly cut through the richness. So before I left, I insisted, “No, you must keep the remainder of the ice cream!”
2 cups heavy cream
1.5 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
10 eucalyptus leaves, cut up into 1-inch pieces
In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and 2 1/2 tablespoons of the cream until there are no lumps to create a cornstarch slurry.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix the remaining cream and milk with sugar and salt. When the mixture begins to steam, add the cornstarch slurry. Continue to cook and mix until the mixture thickens or begins to simmer.
Remove from heat and pour into a large nonreactive bowl. Add the cut-up eucalyptus leaves. Steep for at least 18 hours in the refrigerator to enhance the flavor.
Strain out the leaves. Then churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Serve as is. Optionally drizzle honey over the ice cream.
Written in February 2013