Tomato-thyme in the peacock cups

A couple weeks ago I got an odd email from a relative. She said she had sent me a set of my husband’s great-grandmother’s glass cups and saucers, which she described in not the most flattering terms.

“To be perfectly honest, I think they’re a little ugly,” she wrote, but explained that given my penchant for photographing food, she thought I might be able to use them more in the next twenty years than she had in the previous twenty, which was never.

I adore dishware, but I don’t come from a family with a Hutch or a Dish Cabinet. (I find these words are often spoken carefully, as if the dishes inside might hear if their owners think of using them, then decide against it.) China is a place, not something you put on a table. So I appreciated her gesture, and resigned myself to storing something heinous that I’d probably never use. (Actually, she did give me explicit permission to sell them on eBay, which, prior to seeing them, was an option I hadn’t ruled out.)

But oh, that box! Sheathed in layers of tissue and bubble wrap, the cups (were they meant for tea?) had been carefully packed, shielded like glass vials of uranium against any and all possible physical threats. Both the cups and the squarish saucers–every trend cycles–are rimmed with fading gold, etched white with flowers, and tattooed with dime-sized green dots that can best be described as an afterthought. They will always look out of place on my table or in my house; they will never match anything I own. But I love them.

Peacock Cups

She’d mentioned that perhaps they’d been used for sorbet, but I couldn’t really imagine a proper matriarch from the turn of the (last) century churning sorbet by hand at home. All those stories are about ice cream, right? You never hear, “When I was small, I used to sit on my great-grandmother Adelaide’s lap and help her churn lemon sorbet.” But sorbet was mentioned, so sorbet I made.

I chilled the base overnight (sorbet is typically made with a combination of fruit and some sort of sugar syrup) and gave my husband a taste at seven in the morning, directing him to open up just after he’d swallowed the last of his coffee. He obeyed, but his eyes crossed when the cool sorbet melted summer into his mouth.

HIM: What is this?

ME: Tomato sorbet.

HIM: Ohhh. Tomato-thyme?

Before I could congratulate him on his herb identification, he was hopping all around the kitchen, thrilled about his pun. “Get it?” he said. “It’s tomato time! Summer! Tomato-thyme.” More hopping and giggling.

He gave the sorbet a bit of an ego problem, too; it commanded a spot the new teacups.

This sorbet is preening, that’s what it’s doing, positively preening in this cup, green spots aflare, like the peacock I saw at the zoo a few weeks ago.

Yes, much like that peacock. I’ll call these the peacock cups.

Welcome, summer.

Tomato-Thyme Sorbet Close

Recipe for Tomato-Thyme Sorbet
Recipe 172 of 365

Oh, I know what you’re saying: I don’t habitually serve intermezzos, and I’ve never made sorbet. Those are horrible excuses. Well, not good excuses, anyway. With the help of a blender and an ice cream maker, sorbet is about as difficult as making a smoothie, and even though you probably don’t serve dinner in courses—I certainly don’t—planning for a palate cleanser between two items can turn having friends over for a chill dinner into a fancy dinner party. I hate fancy dinner parties, you say. Well, in that case, I can’t help you.

For best flavor, use the very best tomatoes you can find, preferably a variety with lots of meat and few seeds. (If you’re shopping at a regular grocery store, look for Ugli heirlooms.) The number of tomatoes you need will depend on the type of tomato you use – I used 3 big heirloom tomatoes, two Black Krims and a Mortgage Lifter.

Note that you’ll need to start this recipe the day before you plan to serve the sorbet.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 4 cups sorbet

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup (packed) roughly chopped fresh thyme
3 large, ripe heirloom tomatoes
Pinch salt

Combine the sugar, water, and thyme in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for 2 minutes, remove from the heat, and let cool to room temperature. When cool, strain with a fine-mesh strainer.

Meanwhile, blanch and peel the tomatoes: put a kettle of water on to boil. Use a small, sharp knife to score the bottom of each tomato with an “x.” Place the tomatoes in a large heatproof bowl, and pour the boiling water over the tomatoes. Let sit for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the skin begins to peel back on the tomatoes. Drain the tomatoes, peel away all skin, remove the core and all seeds, and chop. Save 2 1/4 cups of the chopped tomatoes for the sorbet; use any remaining tomatoes for something else.

Combine 1 cup of the cooled thyme syrup with the 2 1/4 cups chopped tomato meat and the salt in a blender or food processor, and process until completely smooth. Refrigerate until cold (overnight is easiest, I think, but to rush the process, you can chill it in the freezer, stirring frequently).

The next day, freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Allow the sorbet to harden in the freezer for a few hours before serving.


Filed under appetizers, dessert, fruit, recipe

5 responses to “Tomato-thyme in the peacock cups

  1. Where did you get the heirlooms? I’ve been looking for them everywhere, but haven’t found any yet….


  2. Found them at the Ballard Farmer’s Market on Sunday; I heard they were also available at the U District market on Saturday. They’re from a greenhouse; you must try the mortgage lifter. Also, be sure to ask for the seconds – they were half the price, not quite as pretty, but, as far as I can tell, equally delicious.

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