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Rhubarb Lemon Verbena Gelee with Blackberry

Rhubarb Lemon Verbena Gelee with Blackberry

I started a new job recently and found myself on a hugely diverse team: a Nigerian, two Ethiopians, two Ukrainians, three Indians, and a Russian made up the bulk of my compatriots. It took us a few weeks to figure out how to work together, but I found that my typically gregarious Americanness was a little challenging with such a private group of people. I was fascinated by the cultural crossroads in the office and wanted to know more, but as a group, they weren't really much into sharing. I needed a different approach.

One day, before anyone else had arrived, I asked Alexey if there was anything I could bake for him. You see, Alexey seemed a little homesick. He'd flown from Ukraine only weeks before on an assignment that had few details, and he had no idea when he'd be home. He'd been adjusting remarkably well for his first trip to the US, but I listened with rapt attention when he talked about home. It was one of the few times this quiet engineer actually lit up. So when his mother came up in conversation, I asked if there was something she made that he liked - and missed, hoping I might both learn something new while doing something for my friend at the same time.

He thought long and hard, and then, excitedly turned to his computer. I knew he was looking for a picture or a translation, and visions of complicated Eastern European pastries danced in my head. He turned back to me beaming, obviously having found what he was looking for. He said, in very good English, 'we call it yellow.' I looked at the bright red wobbly mold and knew immediately what he was showing me. Apparently, Jello's universal too. I knew I could improve on it.

With purpose, I started thinking about what to make. Out contracts were on hold, so I found myself with a little extra time to work on it. I knew I wanted to flavor the gelatin with local fruit, and I found inspiration in our garden. Rhubarb, lemon verbena and a single blackberry resulted in a summer masterpiece that I was looking forward to sharing with Alexey.A trio of gelees I set the gelatin in tiny cordial glasses, and the blackberry had given it the softest pink color, you could almost feel its innocence. It smelled of rhubarb but tasted of lemon verbena, and the single blackberry I set in each glass transformed into a jewel of rich perfume.

Unfortunately, the project ended abruptly and I didn't get to see him before he returned home. So this one's for you, Alexey!

Rhubarb Lemon Verbena Gelee with Blackberry
5 c water, dividedMajor players
1 c sugar
3 stalks rhubarb, sliced in 3" pieces
8" stem lemon verbena, leaves removed and reserved
3 - 4 sheets gelatin (4 is firm, 3 is looser)
Whole blackberries

  1. In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat 4+1/2 c water with the sugar, stirring to dissolve.
  2. When the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and add the rhubarb, lemon verbena, and a single blackberry. Cover and steep for 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, add the gelatin sheets to the remaining 1/2 c water and set aside to soften.
  4. After steeping the fruit and herbs, carefully strain into a bowl or glass measuring cup.
    Note: In order to achieve a clear gelatin, I strained the liquid twice, the second time through a coffee filter. 
  5. Squeeze the gelatin leaves of excess water, then whisk into the still-warm steeped liquid.
  6. Place a single blackberry in each serving dish, then carefully pour in the warm liquid.
  7. Chill until firm.

More Info

New York Times' Spiced Rose Gelatin with Peaches, from July 19, 2010

Saveur's Raspberries in Pink Champagne Gelee, in the July 2010 issue


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honestly this blog made me starving every time, I love food so much, I also like cooking, you provide all food from different country, but it was always look delicious and worth it to try.. awesome
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Unfortunately, the project

Unfortunately, the project ended abruptly and I didn't get to see him before he returned home. So this one's for you, Alexey!
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This is so beautiful! At first I thought the blackberry was a jumble of stewed blueberries. You're photo is like a trompe l'oeil. :) Sounds delicious, too.

Oh yeah, trompe l'oeil!

Dang, you nailed it! I was particularly happy with this picture - one of my best and most confounding, I think. Maybe it's not appetizing and you can't really tell what it is, but it's clear and sharp and puzzling - and makes you read so you can figure out what it is. Thank you for noticing!!

Awesome job!

I've seen so many recipes lately for lemon desserts! So far, I think yours must be the best! Thanks again for sharing this delicious lemon recipe!

Thank you so much!

Yes, it's a twist on lemon - given that there's no lemon in the dessert. I think it made a lovely and light gelatin, and I can't wait to make it again.

Thanks for visiting, Sophia!

another lovely post Jenny!

another lovely post Jenny! beautiful photo and you know i'm a sucker for a great story - i'm just sad you didn't get an opportunity to share this w/your new friend! and girl, am LOVIN' that new avatar of yours!! can't wait to meet you next month!

Sad, but happy in the end

I sent Alexey a message about this post - and found him happily working back in the Ukraine. It was so nice to hear from him, to catch a picture of his nephew - felt like I'd managed to stay connected despite the miles. But dang, he would have liked this gelatin.

Next month will be a blast. I don't look as glam as that avatar in real life - I'm about as cozy as a person can get without being an armchair. See you then!

what a great story

What a great story. I love how food brings people together. And this certainly is an improvement on the traditional jello that we all remember from childhood!