When we first came to Hillfield House the mature gardens needed a little loving care but there was one plant I could not bear to pull out. It was Herb Robert (we know it as the Headache Flower locally). It is native to the UK and belongs of the Geranium family. Geraniums do particularly well in our gardens here – a little too well in fact! Geraniums and Pelargoniums are related – true Geraniums are often referred to as Cranes Bill due to the shape of their seed head after the flowers fade, whilst Pelargoniums are known as Storks Bill.
Pelargoniums were discovered growing at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa in the early 1600s and Charles I's botanist and chief plant finder John Tradescent (c1570-1638) introduced the plant to England. What we know as Scented Geraniums are actually Pelargoniums and there are many varieties whose leaves smell of rose, lemon, coconut, mint, strawberry, spice, pine and apple. Growing Scented Geraniums became a popular pastime in Victorian England. The Victorians raised the plants in heated greenhouses and this craze continued until 1914 when fuel to heat the greenhouses was banned due to the war, and the practice died away.
Certain Pelargoniums are important in the perfume industry and are cultivated and distilled for their scent. The edible leaves and flowers are also used as a flavouring in desserts, cakes, jellies and teas. I have even spotted a Geranium Gin made by Henrik Hammer: Geranium Premium London Dry Gin. Henrik has been working with gin for many years, hosting gin tastings, seminars and as a judge for the gin category at The International Wine & Spirit Competition. The botanicals are matured for 48 hours and then distilled in 100% pure grain spirit (English Wheat) spirit in a 100 year old copper pot still called ‘Constance’ at Langley Distillery, Birmingham – a 200 year old family owned gin distillery. Apparently the gin has a delicate taste of juniper, a crisp citrus-rosy aroma from the geranium and exotic notes from eight other botanicals.
I have found a super summer recipe for using Scented Geranium leaves . . . Ice Cream! You can use Rose or Lemon Scented Geranium, whichever you prefer.
Lemon Geranium Ice Cream
300 ml milk
10 - 12 Lemon Scented Geranium leaves, crushed
3 egg yolks
100 g icing sugar
300 ml whipping cream
Lemon Scented Geranium leaves, to decorate
Add the milk and geranium leaves to a pan and bring almost to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the geranium leaves. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until pale and frothy. Stir in the milk, then strain back into the pan. Cook the custard gently over a low heat, stirring continuously, until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Do not boil.
Pour into a shallow freezer container, cool, then cover and freeze for 2 hours, until mushy. Whip the cream until stiff, then fold into the semi frozen custard. Return to the freezer container and freeze for a further 2 hours. Remove from the freezer and place the mixture into a chilled bowl and beat well again. Return to the freezer and freeze until firm. Transfer to the refrigerator to soften for 30 minutes before serving. Decorate with geranium leaves.
Sparkling wine would be a great accompaniment to this dessert and Comte de Laube is a good choice. It is made from grapes grown in the South West of France and the vineyards of the Loire Valley. This is an elegant and delicate sparkling wine fizzing with fine, long lasting bubbles. Made from a blend of Chardonnay, Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc and Chenin Blanc Comte de Laube has subtle notes of lemon, toasted almonds, greengage, apple and broom blossom. On the palate, it reveals slight floral touches of quite surprising finesse. The finish is pleasantly and very slightly fruity.