Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pearly's Sorrel Recipe

I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season so far.  It is cold and snowing here in New Jersey (I moved here seven months ago) and all I want to do is stay indoors and enjoy the scenery from my window.  I figured I would take this time to do a little gift wrapping, baking, and blogging since it has been quite a while.  Last year around this time I was prepping for my trip to Trinidad.  I spent New Year's Eve there with my husband and his family. Besides loving the fact that I was going to be in a warm climate for the holiday, I just couldn't wait to indulge in all the wonderful foods that Trinis make during this time of year!  

The first thing I recall from arriving home from the airport, was being greeted with cold glasses of sorrel and ginger beer- two beverages commonly served during Christmas time in the Caribbean.  I didn't know how to tell Pearly (my eighty-three year old grandmother-in-law) that I wasn't a big fan of sorrel, so I just gladly accepted the glass and sat down to relax.  I took a few sips and to my surprise, there was no bitter or extremely tart and syrupy taste that I usually associate with sorrel.  During the following two weeks there, I found myself drinking a little more each day until I finally had to ask for the recipe.  Along with her recipe, she gave me some dried sorrel flowers she had left over which I kept for use this holiday season. 

What is sorrel?

In varying Caribbean countries, sorrel is the name given to the drink made from the sepals of theroselle plant which is a member of the hibiscus family.  In plain terms, the sepal is the part of the flower that holds the flower petals together before blooming.  
Source: Google Images

When the flower begins to mature, the sepals become quite fleshy and bright red in color.  This is when "sorrel flowers" become recognizable.  To make sorrel drink, the sepals are removed from its ovary, which most call the seed, and then boiled with water and various spices to extract color and flavor.  The sepals can also be dried once the ovary is removed for preservation and use at a later time.  Sorrel is made throughout many countries in the Caribbean and although the process is the same, each has their own variation with additions of different flavorings and spices.  

Sorrel sepal
Source: Google Images

There are many different ways to flavor this drink.  The few ingredients I've found absolutely necessary to make this drink are cinnamon, clove, and sugar.  The addition of other spices and flavoring agents such as orange peel, bay leaves, lemon rind, all spice, and ginger all depend on your taste preference and sometimes your country of origin.  I've noticed with Jamaican sorrel, ginger seems to be a must, but is excluded in the Trinidadian version.  

This is how Pearly makes her sorrel now, but my husband did recall memories of her younger days when she used fresh sorrel sepals.  He mentioned how she would sit in front of her television and carefully cut the ovary out of the sepals to make this drink during Christmas time.  She is much older now and uses the dried flowers instead.  I have noticed the fresh sepals yield a brighter and more neon colored drink, whereas the dried sepals tend to give off a darker pigment.  Overall, this drink is quite simple to make if you are using dried sepals; how you choose to flavor it is all up to you.  Sorrel is served over ice and it tends to thin out as the ice melts, allowing the true taste to really come through.  Pearly adds sugar to this drink after it has steeped since some prefer this tart, while others enjoy it a little sweeter. 

Gather up your spices.  Pearly uses cinnamon bark, but cinnamon sticks are commonly used as well. 

Add 2 1/2 cups dried sorrel flowers to a deep pot with 20 cups of water and all the spices.  Give it a stir and allow to boil on low for 30 minutes.   Side note: When this mixture started to boil, it reminded me of a mulled wine I used to drink when I lived near the finger lakes in western NY.  We used to go wine tasting all the time and in the winter months I remember going to Atwater Vineyards and savoring a glass of a warm spiced wine, it was quite delicious and had this aromatic intensity to it, similar to sorrel when it is warm.  Anyway, back to the recipe. 

The flowers will be reconstituted and very soft after 30 minutes.  Turn heat off, cover pot and allow to steep 1-2 days or just overnight. 

The next day, strain mixture and discard sepals and spices.   Add sugar to entire pot at this point or per glass.

Serve over ice and enjoy!

Pearly's Sorrel
Makes approximately 1.5 gallons

·  2 1/2 cups dried sorrel flowers (16 1/2 ounces)
·  20 cups water
·  1 star anise
·  10-12 whole cloves 
·   1-2 pieces cinnamon bark or cinnamon stick
·   4-inch piece orange peel
·   2-3 small bay leaves or 1 large leaf
·   Brown or white granulated sugar to taste
·   Dark rum (optional)

1. Add all ingredients, except sugar, to a deep pot.  Boil uncovered for 30 minutes until sorrel flowers are very soft. 
2. Let steep 1-2 days or overnight, covered. 
3.The next day- strain and squeeze sorrel flowers, then discard. 
4. Sugar may be added to entire pot at this point or per glass to suit your taste. Stir until sugar is dissolved.  Add desired amount of rum.  Pour over ice when ready to serve.
5. Bottle remainder and store in a cool dry place.  No need to refrigerate. 

Additional comments:
· Pearly typically uses a cheesecloth to strain and squeeze the flowers after steeping.  I didn't have one on hand, so a strainer works fine here. 
· This beverage needs a lot of sugar, start with 1 1/2 cups and adjust from there. I used brown sugar which takes some time to melt.  The pot may be heated on low to help sugar dissolve then removed from heat. 
· If you feel it is too tart or syrupy for you, add more filtered water and sugar. Remember you will be serving this over ice as well which would dilute the flavor as you drink. 
· Bottle remainder of beverage.  Glass bottles are a great choice since they are non-reactive and sorrel tends to stain anything it comes in contact with. 

  • If storing for more than 4 days without serving, then adding alcohol to the mixture is a good idea, otherwise, beverage will start to ferment. 
· Pearly stored her bottles in the cupboard, in a cool dark place, she never refrigerated it, but you may choose to if you like. 

Other Sorrel Recipes:
·                     Simply Trini Cooking
·                     Cook Like A Jamaican
·                     Jehan Can Cook
·                     Trini Gourmet
·                     Dominica
·                     Uncommon Caribbean
·                     Eat Caribbean


  1. When would you add the (optional) rum?

    1. Add it when you are having a drink. Add to your glass not the whole batch

    2. Add it when you are having a drink. Add to your glass not the whole batch

    3. Add it when you are having a drink. Add to your glass not the whole batch

  2. I spent a few weeks in Guyana in 2005 and loved the food and this drink. Do you think you could make this with dried hibiscus flowers or is that totally different? I'm so glad I found this website and can't wait to try more recipes. I got my family and friends addicted to roti when I came home, and need to make that again.