Sorrel – The Christmas Drink Recipe To Get in The Spirit
There are a lot of traditions in the Caribbean around Christmas. So, although Steve already said the holidays just aren’t right without ponche de creme or black cake, they also aren’t the same without this Christmas sorrel drink recipe!
What is sorrel?
Sorrel is one of my favorite flavors associated with the holiday season. There’s the cinnamon (scientifically proven to be the most Christmas-y smell in existence), the cloves, the ginger, brown sugar, and, of course, the sorrel itself.
For those unaware, what we West Indians call sorrel is different from the sorrel you may have heard of in Europe. The one we use is more officially referred to as roselle (scientific name: hibiscus sabdariffa). And as you can tell from the scientific name, it’s closely related to the hibiscus plant. So, in that way, our Caribbean Christmas sorrel drink is also a relative of hibiscus tea made from hibiscus flowers.
And just like the other Caribbean Christmas treats we’ve discussed, sorrel drink is traditionally produced slightly differently from island to island. Interestingly, while I most closely associate sorrel with Trinidad (thanks to my parents, I guess), many Spanish speaking islands call the drink agua de Jamaica!
To understand a little about why sorrel became synonymous with the holiday season, you have to look at two factors: natural and cultural.
First, on the natural side, let’s get to know the sorrel plant itself. Growing to a maximum height of anywhere between seven and eight feet tall, it’s a shrub with long leaves.
Back in the day, there was only one variety grown in the Caribbean. Usually planted in the Summertime, the roselle plant would only bloom annually. When? You guessed it: December.
Nowadays, there have been new varieties introduced in the region that allows for production year-round, but that hasn’t broken sorrel’s grip on the Christmas season.
Like many of the cultural idiosyncrasies of the Caribbean, sorrel’s importance can be traced to the region’s slave history.
In western Africa, there’s a drink called bissap. And no celebration is complete without this bright red beverage. Wedding, graduations, you name it—expect bissap to be served if it’s time to rejoice! In fact, this drink is so culturally significant in the region, that it’s the official drink of Senegal!
Now, combine that knowledge with the fact that one of out every six slaves brought to the West Indies originated from today’s Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Mali. So, is it any wonder that this tradition of red drinks marking celebrations is so strong in Afr0-Caribbean culture?
Even less surprising now that you know all this, is that bissap is sorrel! Just another connection we West Indians have with our African heritage.
But don’t think the Caribbean was the only place where this tradition flourished. In North America, African Americans have something called “red drink.” Basically, anything can be called red drink, but I remember it being used to refer to Kool-Aid, myself! And, of course, there’s the connection to the Juneteenth celebrations that also feature the embrace of all drinks red!
Cooking up your own sorrel
So, how do you cook up a batch of Christmas sorrel drink for yourself? It’s actually easy. (The hardest part might be finding dried flowers, or if you’re lucky, fresh sorrel in your area.)
Just follow the recipe below and don’t skimp on the rum. ‘Tis the season after all! The complete concoction is an aromatic, festively red brew with just the right amount of rum and guaranteed to get you into the holiday spirit whether it’s 90º outside, or 33º.
- 2 cups Sorrel flowers, dried
- .25 cups Ginger, fresh root
- 1 Cinnamon, stick
- 4 Cloves, whole
- 1 cup Brown Sugar
- 6 cups Water
- Lemon, lime or orange peel for garnish
- Rum to taste
- In a large, heat-proof crock or bowl, combine the sorrel, the ginger, the cinnamon stick the cloves and the sugar. Set aside.
- Bring the water to a boil. Pour boiled water over the sorrel, spices, and sugar. Allow the mixture to cool. Cover the crock or bowl and refrigerate overnight.
- Strain the mixture through a fine cheesecloth and return the liquid to the crock or bowl.
- Strain the punch a final time and place it in the refrigerator to chill.
- Finally, add rum to taste!