Thursday, November 10, 2011

Roselle Martini: Community-Supported Cocktail Hour

Tom and I belong to a CSA. Yes, it's true that our ancestors were once involved with an entity known as the Confederate States of America, but this time we belong to a Community-Supported Agriculture group. This means that once a week we pick up a basket of produce from the Utility Research Garden. Our farmer is David Cater, and the basket is always full of interesting, beautiful, very fresh produce.

Last week we got some pretty red blossoms in our basket. Actually the red pieces come from the calyx of a species of hibiscus plant, and they are used in cuisines all over the tropical world. There are actually two species of hibiscus the calyces of which are used in cooking: Hibiscus sabdariffa and Hibiscus cannabinus.  Some of these species also produce a bast fiber in the stems. I'm guessing that's why one of the Indian (subcontinent) species has "cannabinus" in its name: it's used a bit like hemp.

Back to cocktail hour. I'd been making tea with the calyces for some weeks, whenever we got them in our basket, but it occurred to me that their beautiful red color could be exploited for other purposes, such as jello, or even better, cocktails! It turned out that there is a traditional cocktail called the Martini de jamaica. Jamaica is the Mexican word for these pretty flower parts.  I altered the recipe for this cocktail a bit, and here's what I did.

First I simmered the red petals in water to cover them for about fifteen minutes, to make a very concentrated tea, about one cup's worth. Then I strained the petals out, and I added about a half cup of sugar to the hot tea and stirred until it dissolved. (This was probably too much. Looking at the original recipe which called for a separate simple syrup, I see that about 1/4 cup of sugar would have been about right.)

Then I squeezed three lemons and put the juice in a separate jar.

Tom brought home the vodka and we chilled it.

To make one martini:

2 ounces of the sugary roselle syrup
1 1/2 ounces vodka
1 1/2 ounces lemon or lime juice

We poured this over crushed ice and stuck a basil stem in it for decoration, because we didn't have any little umbrellas:

Since this first sample was good, I mixed a batch in a ball jar, using up the rest of the syrup. When people came we poured it over ice.  There's still some left over for breakfast!

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