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 up the backyard of a house in San Pablo. A house that my parents nicknamed the Silver house for the Silver family that stopped paying rent, destroyed the walls and carpet, and finally got evicted. I was only 6 or 7 at the time but I only remember the sweeping decks where my sister and I played while our parents dealt with the mess. The fog rolling across the bay. Was it San Francisco or Marin county? I am not sure, but I saw the water. And 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 with both of these moments in mind when I received a 30th birthday invitation with the food theme of forage and forest, I knew. But then I questioned myself. Why not something sane like rosemary? Or the fruits (like guava!) that I used to pick as a kid riding my bike around the neighborhood.
Not good enough! I opted for a tree prevalent throughout San Francisco. 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 that was abolished several years later (eucalyptus takes approximately 300 years before it’s hardy enough to be used as hardwood and that type of eucalyptus was not imported to the city). 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, is one of 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 unfortunately, the fresh leaves are higher than a human can easily reach. So there we were standing in the park, dark shadows against the falling sun staring above us. So what to do 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.
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 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.