Growing up in Trinidad, I always looked forward to Christmastime. Not just for the presents and celebration, but for the seasonal delights that my Mom would make. There were pastels and ham; punch de creme and sorrel. But right now, I want to tell you about this drink called sorrel.
It is best described as a very strong, thick herbal tea made from the calyx or sepals of the sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa) flower. It is deep red in color and looks almost like blood. I grew up calling it sorrel, but it has different names depending on which country you may be in. Other common names for it are roselle, Florida cranberry or flor de Jamaica.
My Mom did not pass her recipe on to me as I was not able to find it locally until last year. So with the help of my googling machine, I was able to find a few recipes that gave me enough information to get started. After a few tries, I was able to get somewhat close to what that my Mom made. Her original recipe used whole cloves but I found it easier to use ground clove.
The fresh sorrel calyx are only available in late November and December. But dried sorrel is available all year long at certain uncommon markets. I was not able to make the fresh sorrel until this year and it does taste distinctly better than the dried version. Several of you have asked for the recipe, so here it is.
0.56 lb of dried Flor de Jamaica (I have found this at Bravo and Detweiler's)
5 cups of granulated Sugar
2.75 Gallons of water
1/4 level teaspoon of ground cloves
Start off by heating the 1.5 to 2 gallons of water and 3 cups of sugar in a large pot to 190° F. Steep the dried sepals for 20-30 minutes and then letting it cool in a covered pot. You should have a very dark red tea that has a soup like consistency.
The fresh version is a little different. My wife has told me that this one tastes like Christmas and it is just like Mom used to make it.
2 lbs of fresh uncut sorrel yields about 15oz of sepals
1.5 cups of granulated sugar
54 oz water
1/8 level teaspoon of ground cloves
With fresh sorrel, you need to cut the sepals off of the center pod. This is a time consuming task, but is well worth it. The yield for the fresh sorrel may improve for late season harvest but then again, it may not. Heat the water and 1 cup of sugar in a pot to about 190° F and add the sorrel. It will look as if you don't have enough water, but when the sepals reach about 170°, they will wilt and give up the luscious red tea. Keep them at about 190°-200° F for about 20 minutes and let it cool in a covered pot for a few hours. This will help to get all of the flavor from the sorrel.
Once it has cooled, strain the liquid into another large pot and squeeze as much of the precious liquid as you can out of the spent sepals. I usually use a very fine mesh bag. Then add the rest of the water and sugar until it is to your liking.
There are a couple of interesting things to note here. When you are adding water to dilute it to final, if you add so much as an ounce or two too much, the entire batch will taste watered down. And as you get close to adding the last of the 5 cups of sugar, you will notice a sudden improvement in the flavor.
Once cooled to room temperature, pour it into sanitized rum or wine bottles and refrigerate. Now, you may end up with a big red mess wherever this stuff drips. Fortunately, it does not easily stain. It cleans up surprisingly easily with just plain tap water. I am still working on improving this recipe but this is a good start on reviving one of my favorite childhood beverages.
To ferment this drink, just pour some into a sanitized gallon jug and add your favorite ale yeast and an airlock. Then put in a cooler for 2 plus months. The fermentation will start out normally and build a krausen that will eventually go down. But in about a week or two, it will seem to stop, but it doesn't. Don't forget to rack it off the yeast cake after a couple of weeks like you would with beer. It will keep fermenting very, very slowly for many months and still be sweet.