Fifteen years ago, my husband, Ed, and I toasted the start of our life together. Our glasses–and thirty others–were filled with Banfi’s Rosa Regale sparkling red; the color not only matched my wine-colored calla lilies, but also, as those glasses were raised, served to offset the stark white walls of the museum where we held our reception.
After putting dishes away the other day, I pulled down two of those infamous champagne glasses and gently clinked them together to reminisce. As I listened to the sound of the crystal reverberating, it made me think of my son, Everett, and what he would be drinking as Ed and I toasted our anniversary this week–he always feels left out when we have a grown-up drink. (Typically, as a consolation, we allow him to have something special and bubbly along with us: root beer and ginger beer are his favorites.) I set the glasses down and noticed that sitting right in front of me was the bowl full of Florida cranberries that I picked up at the market the day before. The cogs started turning…
My brain is always veering off from one tangent to the next: it’s pretty much how I function. So, follow me, won’t you, as I take you along my thought path from our wedding champagne memory through to my latest creation: hibiscus syrup.
Two years ago, when I first discovered the Florida cranberry–aka hibiscus, aka roselle–I was intrigued to say the least. These beautiful flowers actually were used in a jam; a jam that took me a mere two weeks to empty. Once that jar was gone, I had to wait an entire year to get my hands on some more–a testament to the seasonality of produce. When my favorite local jam maker, Urban Canning Company, did not put out their Florida Cracker Cranberry Jam the next year, I knew it was up to me to experiment with these funky looking buds. I came up with my own jam-like spread that was a huge success, and then, just like that, they were out of season again.
As much as I love that jam, I wanted to do something different this year when cranberry–hibiscus–season came around: enter the champagne glasses and the inspiration that followed. Thinking of what Everett might like to have for his special drink made me remember a local restaurant that makes homemade sodas using fresh juice as the base; my boy orders the hibiscus soda every time. So, I took that bowl full of flowers in front of me, popped the seed out of the center of each one, and added the hibiscus petals to a pot with equal parts sugar and water. This concoction cooked down, thickened slightly, and turned a brilliant red to make the perfect base for his favorite soda. End tangent.
Fortunately, dried hibiscus will substitute for fresh in this recipe, so I won’t need to wait an entire year to make this again. The dried petals are very concentrated, so you would only need half the amount; they are available online and at some health food stores. Please note that I have read multiple articles advising against drinking hibiscus tea/syrup when pregnant; there is a connection between the drink and miscarriage.
This all-natural syrup is as versatile as it is delicious; it adds some fruity, flowery notes to just about anything. Mix some with lemonade, punch, iced tea, vodka, or soda for a pop of flavor–and color; I topped Everett’s off with seltzer water. It would even be fantastic, and fun, poured over snow cones or shave ice!
Despite the fact that my thoughts don’t always travel from point A to point B in a straight line, it still seems that there is a method to my mental madness–even if I don’t know what it is! But, in the end, all of those tangents led me to create the perfect red, bubbly toasting drink for Everett to enjoy alongside our grown-up glasses of Rosa Regale. Cheers to fifteen years!
This syrup can be used in all types of beverages and cocktails, or even poured over snow cones.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup fresh hibiscus petals or 1/2 cup dried
Add all ingredients to a saucepan over medium heat. Stir to combine. Allow to cook, about 15 minutes, until sugar is dissolved and mixture has turned bright reddish-pink. Bring to room temperature, strain and refrigerate. Keeps for 2 weeks.
NOTE: When adding to beverages, a good guideline is 1 1/2 Tablespoons syrup to 1 cup liquid. You can always add more to taste if you like it sweeter.