Roselle is one of those garden plants that hardly anyone knows about. I first saw it growing at Karen Sherwood’s farm about ten years ago, and was impressed as much by its striking appearance as I was with the flavor of some homemade soda Karen had made with it.
It is common and well-known in the Caribbean, Southern Asia, Southern India, and North Africa. Nutritious and medicinal, roselle is related to okra and cotton. It needs a long season to grow and is one of those wonderful, multi-use plants. The stalks have strong fibres that can be used to make rope, the leaves are also edible and can be cooked like spinach, and all sorts of different things are made with the fleshy red calyxes that form after the flower has bloomed, from tea to jam.
Here in the South, Roselle was often called “The Florida Cranberry” for the tart, cranberry-like flavor of the calyxes. A very convincing “cranberry” sauce that is simple to make a can be made from it with all local and home-grown ingredients. I hope this might inspire you to consider making your Thanksgiving a local-food feast!
Roselle Mock Cranberry Sauce
First of all, the red calyxes must be peeled away from the green seed pods on the inside. They are slightly prickly and uncomfortable to handle, so you might want to wear gloves if you have sensitive hands (not me – I garden too much). If you are shucking A LOT of roselle, a roselle corer is easy to make and makes the task go much faster.
The corer on the left in the photo was made by gluing a 3-inch piece of thin brass tubing to a piece of wood with a hole bored in the middle.
Now you are ready for the recipe:
2 cups shucked roselle calyxes, very freshly picked
1/2 cup water (you can also use fresh-squeezed orange juice instead for a more citrus-y holiday flavor, or add sliced kumquats, etc.)
1/2-1 cup honey, depending on how sweet of a sauce you like
1. Put roselle and water together in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil over a low flame with the lid on. Cook until the roselle is soft.
2. With a blender or food processor, blend up the sauce. Add honey to taste. If the sauce is too thin, you can cook it down over low heat. It will gel in the fridge if it is cooked down enough.
Notes: Salt and pepper are interesting additions to this sauce, and give it a more savoury, almost ketchup-like flavor. It goes well either way with all kinds of meats.