Preserving the Harvest: Hibiscus Liqueur
Flowers in a Bottle
In my last post, which you can read here I talked about a wonderful edible flower, Thai Roselle, or edible Hibiscus. So now you may be thinking great, well what do you do with it? Since this is my first year growing roselle, and I only have one plant, I don't have a large harvest and I wanted to do something special that I could savor throughout the year.
Locally Grown Thanksgiving or Boozy New Year
I debated for awhile whether or not I should freeze the calyxes and then use it as a cranberry substitute honoring its name Florida cranberry. We were planning a locally grown Thanksgiving dinner and cranberries have to travel a very long way to get to Southern California. But in the end I decided I wanted to use it in a way that we could enjoy for a long time. So of course I decided to make a hibiscus liqueur.
As you may have gathered from my last post I love flowers you can eat. So I was super excited to try these roselle in a recipe. This is my first time experimenting with this ingredient and I got inspired by reading about traditional Caribbean ways of preparing it for a holiday drink. Typically the calyxes of the seed pod, the fleshy outer petals surrounding the seed head are taken off and steeped in hot water with spices varying depending on where in the Caribbean you're from. They steep a strong infusion and then chill it and when they are ready to drink it they add rum. I found 2 recipes that I liked a lot. You can find the Trinidadian recipe here and a Jamaican recipe here.
I found it easiest to use my fingers to break the pieces off from the seed heads and then cut them smaller with some sharp scissors. They are very fleshy and juicy, they snap when you break them. And be careful! The juice stains your hands and clothing. I ended up with about 2 cups full.
I decided to go with all the spices I found in my research so I used fresh ginger slices, dried whole cloves, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, a bay leaf and fresh orange peel.
You will also need a quart mason jar, or other air tight glass jar. The highest proof alcohol you can find, I used Everclear, and they actually have a recipe for a version of this on their website that you can find here, they use dried hibiscus for theirs so its a good recipe if you don't have access to fresh hibiscus. You also need sugar, I like to use less refined sugar so I used zucca morena. I get it at latin food stores which is also where you can find dried roselle known in spanish as jamaica pronounced "hamayca" or flor de jamaica. And of course the clear high octane alcohol of your choice.
Putting Holiday Cheer in a Bottle
After thoroughly washing your broken up pieces of fresh roselle, the next step is to layer them with the sugar and spices in your jar, continuing to alternate flowers, sugar and spices.
Then cover the whole thing with alcohol and watch the magic happen as the roselle instantly starts to color the alcohol.
Although this recipe gets most of it's inspiration from the Caribbean, like the roselle itself I did some virtual globe trotting to pull it all together. For the technique I referred to traditional Eastern European and Russian methods for making sour cherry liqueur which has a similar flavor profile to edible Hibiscus. So after layering all the ingredients you shake it and leave it to infuse in the sun which melts the sugar. Ideally you should shake it a few times a day and after a week check it. After the sugar has dissolved its best to leave it in a dark cupboard for 5- 8 weeks and shake it whenever you remember to. The darkness will help to keep the color and flavors vibrant. Its easy to forget to shake it when its tucked away in a cabinet so you can also put it in a brown paper bag on the kitchen counter and write shake me on it!
When to Decant
You can taste your liqueur as soon as a week, but the longer you infuse it the mellower it will get. When you like the taste you've achieved decant it into a clean sealable bottle. I use a chemex filter and carafe to filter my infusions, but cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer will work as well.
So How Does it Taste
I will have to do a future blog post after it has aged but after a few weeks the flavor was wonderfully spicy but a little cloying. Very similar to another liquor called Velvet Falernum. Next time I will go lighter on the sugar so you can get more of the bright acidity of the roselle and leave out the vanilla and orange altogether. Let me know what you think of this and tell me about your results in the comments!
Paying it Forward
Most importantly when you harvest your roselle make sure you save the seeds!
After you have peeled off the calyxes you'll be left with a beautiful seed head. Leave them to dry in the sun and in a few days they will open and the seeds will fall out easily. Then next year you can plant a whole hedge of roselle and try as many recipes as you can think of! Enjoy!