I was confused by the paragraph about hibiscus in last weeks newsletter but I didn't know I was until I did some more reading. Margie (or whoever wrote it) said that the calyxes were the outside flower parts so I went looking for ways to use the flowers.
The amounts on the recipes didn't make sense, but that turned out to be because they were talking about dried flowers without saying so. The real clue that something was off was the accompanying pictures. Hibiscus flowers look nothing like what we have.
I did a little more digging and found pictures that did match. Calyxes are sometimes called flowers but they're something else entirely. That plasticy sphere in the middle is a seed pod and the fleshy petals surrounding it are something halfway between a fruit and a pine cone.
Because the calyxes are so much more substantial than the flowers they're rather more culinarily versatile. According to Fruits of Warm Climates by Julia Morton (who used to be the director of the Morton Collectanea here at U Miami) "They may be merely chopped and added to fruit salads. In Africa, they are frequently cooked as a side-dish eaten with pulverized peanuts. For stewing as sauce or filling for tarts or pies, they may be left intact, if tender, and cooked with sugar." The flavor and texture of the stewed calyxes, she says, are hard to distinguish from cranberry sauce.
That put me in mind of this post on the I Shot the Chef blog for shortbread bar cookies using leftover cranberry sauce which I thought would be fun to try. Obviously from the subject line of this post I failed, but that's how I started out.
The problem was that I didn't know how much water to use when stewing the amount of hibiscus I had. Two cups seemed reasonable, but I forgot that, unlike cranberries, hibiscus calyxes don't have any pectin in them. The water was going to get a lot of flavor, but it wasn't going to thicken up into jam. So I got my stewed hibiscus, but I didn't want to waste all that flavor in the water. And when I've got flavored water with bits of something-kind-of-like-fruit floating in it, I'm thinking sorbet.
1 CSA share hibiscus calyxes, seed pods removed
2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon light rum
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon dried mint leaves
1. Roughly chop the calyxes and add to boiling water. Simmer for around five minutes and add the sugar. Simmer until the mixture gets a syrupy texture. I honestly wasn't paying attention so I don't know how long it took. Twenty minutes maybe?
2. Cool for a half hour and flavor with perhaps too many other ingredients. I think I'd leave out the mint and vanilla next time and boost up the ginger until there was some notable spiciness.
3. Cool in the refrigerator, churn, ripen in the freezer and scoop it up.
There's been an odd flavor change now that the sorbet has ripened. When the mix was warm, refrigerated and even right out of the churn it, as advertised, tasted a lot like cranberries: sweet and tart with intriguing floral notes (rounded out by all the other stuff I added) and I liked it a lot. But fully frozen both of those prominent aspects are weakened allowing the perfume that lingered around the edges to become the primary flavor and, unfortunately, it's rather bitter. But at least it's definitely hibiscus and not cranberries. I was worried it would go the other way and it would just taste like just another tart berry sorbet.
There are textural issues too as I didn't blend the mix long enough and it's full little chunks of calces. That can be OK for an ice cream, but sorbets should be perfectly smooth. I don't think anyone's going to be eating this--nobody's eating the black sapote sherbet and that's actually really good--so I'll probably melt it down, run it through the blender again, strain it out, boil it down to a syrup and use it to make cocktails with ginger ale and rum.
You, on the other hand, need to stew yours up, serve them with peanuts, and tell me how it goes.