ColumnArtisanal ice cream gone wrong.
The whole put-anything-you-can-find-and-see-if-it-works-in-ice-cream-trend is tasty at times, edgy at best, but has become so ubiquitous that off-color flavors rarely merit a reaction.
That was until I saw the geoduck ice cream sign.
I was driving home to my parents’ house, a big yellow house nestled somewhere between some trees and a few salt water bays in the Puget Sound. I had taken the backroads to avoid traffic, which entailed driving through a quaint, waterfront town of Allyn. There is a knitting store that we go to in the winter, a burger joint in the summer and a small dock to walk on. A good afternoon excursion on the days when you need to spice up country life.
Windows down, music blaring I slowed down to the required 35 miles per hour and took in the sea salt air of home. I was going slow enough that the sign was hard to miss.
“Geo Duck Ice Cream.” Right below the “Fresh Peach Sunda.” Who needs the “y” anyway?
I’m sorry… what?
I was tired of driving and didn’t have the energy to turn around, but I was so shocked that anyone would ever dare make ice cream out of Washington State’s most treasured/hated shellfish that I made a mental note of the sign, and told myself that before the week was up I would have to return.
For those who aren’t well versed on the geoduck, it’s a shellfish that happens to be the largest bivalve along Puget Sound. In laymen’s terms: it has a three foot-long neck and looks pretty gross. But we kind of have a thing for them up in Washington. A sort of love/hate affair. The Chinese certainly love them, which means they’re good for the economy, and Evergreen State College thinks they’re so great that they’ve even made mascot status.
A Washington native, I had personally never tried one. But this was the summer of “just say yes” policy. It’s a travel policy that I try to stick to, even when travel means returning to my home state. And of course, even when it means tasting geoduck ice cream. Fortunately my good friend Dave had come up for the weekend, and as my regular co-host of dinner parties and lover of all things food related, I knew he had to be up for the challenge.
“I am so glad you wanted to go do this with me,” I said, after parking in Allyn and walking up to the small Olympic Mountain Ice Cream shop.
“I didn’t say I wanted to do this,” he responded.
It should be noted that when you walk into an ice cream shop featuring geoduck ice cream with two cameras in hand, it’s sort of obvious what you want to order.
“Oh, there’s the cream kind and a sorbet,” I said, wondering why in God’s name you would make two variations of the stuff.
“Well, the cream based one is a stronger one. A really strong geoduck taste with butter. That’s what we recommend for people that really like geoduck.” said the young woman working behind the ice cream counter. I tried hard not to visibly shudder. “The other one has a really good lime taste and is a little lighter because it’s a sorbet,” she continued. “You really should test both.”
And that was how Dave and I came to be standing with test spoons of geoduck ice cream and sorbet.
A normal person would of course try the samples, pat themselves on the back, kindly say “that was interesting, but I think I am good,” and continue on their merry way. Not in my case. I was just off a week of picking backyard blackberries, muddling them with basil simple syrup and baking almond, cardamom, red currant scones for breakfast. I had to switch things up. You can only go the mason jar and sea salt route for so long.
“Well, we have to get a full scoop… it is what we came here to do,” I looked at Dave somehow trying to coax some encouragement from him.
“Ok, fine, a cup,” he said.
$2.71 later and we had ourselves a styrofoam (I know, I know) cup of lime geoduck sorbet. The things you do for a culinary experience.
If you’re wondering what geoduck sorbet tastes like, it’s simple: a delightful, zesty dose of sweet lemon, lime flavor, followed by a really weird infusion of chewy geoduck, which really just tastes like a bad clam. No really, it’s sorbet with small pieces of geoduck in it. As Dave put it after we both agreed that despite our hatred of food waste, we simply couldn’t finish the thing, “I only had one meal, I really should have been able to eat more of that.”
Appropriate solution to geoduck sorbet? Big Bubba’s Burgers of course, an institution in the town of Allyn. As we walked, I spit out a piece of geoduck that had lodged itself in my teeth. Traveling is a funny thing, causing even the most devoted kale and quinoa addict to order a sorbet and then opt to follow up with the “Western,” a burger with barbecue sauce, fried onions and pepperjack. Dave added bacon. We got a small order of fries.
We walked down to the water and took in the salt air.
“Geoduck sorbet followed by this? I am totally going to puke later,” I said.
“Yeah, but at least you’ll have a column,” he responded.
And a renewed sense of why I don’t like shellfish in my ice cream, or sorbet for that matter, but a reminder of why I love coming home. It’s real. Not upscale. Not serving a new crazy dish because that’s what they read on about on a food blog. Just sort of off-the-wall local food that’s worth eating at least once in life, because it gives you a sense of the place. The kind of thing that we’re all somehow looking for, right?
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s weekly column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground, discovering what’s new and different in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to the culinary avant garde.