Even then, it was only a couple of months ago that I realised exactly just how lucky I’d gotten with this little gem… as I was snipping off a few sprigs of hyssop to use in the backdrop for my Blackberry-Verbena Soda, the air filled with a heady scent of black licorice with hints of pepper and mint, and a little voice in my head whispered ” Something that smells THIS delicious has got to be edible, right?”. (Because apparently my brain is always in search of new things to eat, even when I’m gardening)
A little research on the internet quickly confirmed my suspicions. As it turns out, anise hyssop (or licorice mint, as it’s sometimes called) is an indigenous North American plant that was appreciated by Native Americans both as a breath freshener and as a medicinal herb. It thrives in a variety of growing conditions, is a favourite with our friendly neighbourhood pollinators, and happily blooms from July through to the last frost…. and it also happens to be an absolutely delicious and under-appreciated herb, in case you’re curious.
Both the leaves and blossoms of the hyssop are edible, with a flavour that’s best described as anise with a hint of mint, which means that hyssop can be used almost anywhere you’d use basil, mint or tarragon. I found a very informative page on cooking with hyssop over at Chow and a really informative post about hyssop at Healthy Green Kitchen, if you’re interested in reading more.
Here, I’ve used hyssop leaves to infuse the milk for a blueberry ice cream that echoes the lavender-blue colour of the hyssop blossoms, adding a shot of bright green Pernod liqueur for an extra anise-scented boost. It’s a really lovely combination… in fact, the scent of the custard was so mouthwateringly licoricy that I found myself hovering over the ice cream maker with spoon in hand like an anxious bumblebee buzzing around a hyssop blossom, waiting for my first taste. And as for the bowl in that photo, it lasted all of two minutes after I finished taking my shots. It’s seriously good stuff.
Obviously, it would be silly of me to expect everyone to plant hyssop in their yard just to make this recipe (though I certainly wouldn’t discourage it, either). You should be able to find dried hyssop if there’s a herbalist in your neighbourhood, or you can substitute a different licorice-scented herb, like tarragon or Thai basil.
Blueberry-Hyssop Ice Cream
2 cups milk
1 cup roughly chopped anise hyssop leaves
2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries, washed and picked over
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
2 tbsp Pernod
In a small saucepan, bring milk to a simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from heat. Add the hyssop leaves, then cover and let steep for about 30-45 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the blueberries and lemon juice in a second saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the blueberries begin to burst and release their juices. Puree with an immersion blender, then set aside to cool to room temperature.
Once the milk is sufficiently infused, strain out the hyssop leaves and discard. Stir in cream, and bring to a simmer again over medium-high heat.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Ladle in a small amount of the warm milk mixture, whisking vigorously to keep the eggs from curdling. Slowly pour in the remainder of the warm milk, one or two ladlefuls at a time, whisking constantly as you go.
Once all the milk has been incorporated into the eggs, pour mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan, until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spatula (a silicone spatula is your best friend when it comes to custard-making – if you don’t have one, get one. It’s worth it). Remove from heat.
Pour the blueberry puree through a sieve into a clean bowl, pressing on solids with back of a spoon. Stir in the custard and Pernod, then cover with plastic wrap. Chill custard in refrigerator for at least 2-3 hours to ensure it’s thoroughly chilled before pouring into your ice cream maker and freezing as per manufacturer’s instructions.