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Letter from Manhattan: I'm a Sorrel Man

(post, Kathleen Bauer)

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The GoodStuffNW Man in Manhattan, Mark Dundas Wood, writes about an unusual beverage he heard about that he now keeps in his fridge at all times.

One of the great things about living in New York City is that you get to meet people hailing from so many different parts of the world, with such a wide span of traditions. Human beings being what they are, the customs you tend to hear about first inevitably have to do with food and/or drink.

My friend and co-worker Norman Chapman is originally from Guyana. He’s a talented sportswriter with his own blog, The Chapman Report. Norm can talk and write about pretty much any sport, but since he grew up surrounded by traditions passed down from the British Empire, he’s especially keen on tennis and cricket. He also has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of films and film stars from the 1940s and introduced me to the work of the imposing character actor Laird Cregar. Norm also turned me on to sorrel drink, which is made from the calyces of the roselle or red sorrel plant.

Red sorrel is a type of hibiscus, and the tea that is made from it has a tart flavor that reminds me a little of pomegranate. Norm recalls making the drink from the raw flowers of the shrub, which he and his family would pick. I’ve read online about people salting the blossoms and eating them raw, too. You can buy the dried blossoms for the drink from Angel Brand.

Sorrel drink is easy to make and extremely economical. It also is purported to be flavonoid-rich and healthful. You steep a package of the sorrel with a teaspoon or two of ground ginger in eight cups of boiling water. Let the boldly red concoction cool for about four hours, strain, and then transfer the liquid to a pitcher to refrigerate. You can add sugar or artificial sweeteners if you like, but I prefer to drink the beverage unsweetened, allowing the ginger to subtly undercut the tartness. I mix one part sorrel drink with one part seltzer or club soda. It’s a nice drink to serve in a goblet with dinner if you’re not having wine.

Speaking of alcohol, in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean, sorrel drink is used as the base for a rum punch that is served as a spirited Christmas cup of cheer. So, this season—in lieu of eggnog or wassail—maybe you’ll want to put some reggae-tinged carols on the sound system and fill the punchbowl with this festive crimson potion. Carib Brewery Limited also makes a sorrel shandy, which I haven’t tried. But it sounds like it would be a refreshing summer-months drink.