Christmas Cheer

23 Dec


I first sampled a drink made from sorrel in the early 1990’s on the island of Barbados where I was on assignment for a travel magazine. There I met a woman named Carmeta Fraser; more specifically, Senator Carmeta Fraser. She was a dignitary in that country’s government at the time. Her title: Food Promotion Director for the Barbados Marketing Corporation which is now known as the Barbados Agricultural and Marketing Development Corporation. She also had a radio program that was apparently very popular mainly extolling the virtues of local produce. Her motto was: “Let’s eat what we grow, grow what we eat.” I met with her at her modest home where she showed me her extensive garden and treated me to a number of fruit juices made from her garden’s bounty.

Barbados cherry

Golden apple

I sampled “cherry cool-ma,” made from the Barbados cherry also known as acerola, a slightly tarter version of cherries we are familiar with here and, as she told me, “packed with vitamin C.” Senator Fraser also had me try her homemade golden apple beer, a non-alcoholic drink made from golden apples from her garden. They call it golden apple in Barbados but elsewhere it is known as June plum, and it tastes nothing like our own golden apples. The juice of the fruit, blended with ginger and sweetened with sugar was distinctive and its taste something I just can’t equate. Finally, Senator Fraser brought out a drink made from sorrel telling me that you can drink it all year round, but it’s really best at Christmas time. A member of the hibiscus family, the plant, according to lore, yields its bright red flowers at Christmas. So in Barbados, and elsewhere in the English-speaking islands of the West Indies, they say  it’s just not Christmas without sorrel drink.

Fresh sorrel

I left Senator Fraser’s home with a number of her booklets promoting the benefits of eating local fruits, vegetables and meats. In one of the booklets was a recipe for sorrel drink and the following Christmas in New York, I made my own version and have been making it around Christmas ever since; adopting a tradition that has nothing to do with my own background. I’m not sure why I’ve adopted it; maybe it’s a reminder of sunshine and warmth during a cold, dark time of year. But whatever the reason, as they say, it’s just not Christmas without sorrel drink.

Senator Fraser passed away a few years after my visit. She is still remembered in Barbados as a pioneer in championing local and even organic produce and this past March a store at Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados selling locally-made products opened and, to honor her work,  was named, “Carmeta’s.”

Here is my recipe for sorrel drink adapted from Senator Carmeta Fraser’s.

2 cups of dried sorrel*

3 whole cloves

1 ½ tablespoons of grated orange zest

1 ½ grated fresh ginger

2 quarts of boiling water

1 cup of sugar ( ½ cup more if you’ve got a serious sweet tooth)

Place the sorrel and the other ingredients except for the sugar in a large crock or ceramic jug. Pour the boiling water over all and let it steep in a warm, dry place for 48 hours. I keep it in my oven, just remember to take it out if you are using the oven during the process. Strain and add the sugar. Refrigerate for another 48 hours. Serve over ice, a wedge of lime, and, though Senator Fraser was a church-going woman and never mentioned it, an ounce (or two) of rum definitely enhances the drink’s Christmas cheer. If you do add rum, I recommend Barbados’s own Mount Gay or Appleton Estate from Jamaica.


2 Responses to “Christmas Cheer”

  1. James Lax December 24, 2010 at 10:05 am #

    One more GREAT READ as I love stories of the islands…
    Did Ms. Carmeta offer “something for your head” from her magical garden ? Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Florida !

  2. BSS December 24, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    It’s Christmas Eve. I could use something for my “head” right about now.

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