Sorrel, Ginger Beer and Midnight Mass

About two months before our Caribbean trip, I posted here on You Grow Girl reaching out to anyone who could help connect me with other gardeners living on the islands I would be visiting. This is how I met Celia. We exchanged emails before the trip and then met up in Dominica. It was all very serendipitous since Davin and I just happened to be reading an incredible guide to Dominica by Celia’s husband Paul at the time!

Celia and her husband Paul were incredibly generous — we would not have had a 10th of the trip we did without them! They introduced us to people I could talk to about my family history, took us on road trips, safely lead us to and from the Boiling Lake (Paul has done the hike countless times), and acted as a sounding board for our many confused questions and frustrations. Celia has also helped me to liaison with House of Hope for the fundraising drive. I am incredibly grateful, fortunate, and very glad that I met her.

- Gayla

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Guest Post by Celia Sorhaindo

Photo by Celia Sorhaindo

My earliest memories of Christmas in the Caribbean island of Dominica, have always been dominated by three things; sorrel, ginger beer and Midnight Mass and this is still true today. For many Dominicans there is also a long list of mandatory traditional dishes, required to make Christmas the special celebration that it is here; but for me, my Mum’s home-made sorrel and strong ginger beer are top priority.

Photo by Celia Sorhaindo

Ginger is widely known and used all over the world but the fragrant sorrel is often a new taste for visitors. The name can sometimes cause confusion as there is a perennial spinach type herb called sorrel in various other countries.

Photo by Celia Sorhaindo

The sorrel we grow here, also known as red sorrel, florida cranberry or roselle, is actually a type of hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) and the calyces, the sepals of a flower, are used to make the beverage. Sorrel is seasonal and can usually be found growing in the drier west coast areas. Ginger, however, is available all year round in Dominica and can grow pretty much anywhere. Both drinks are commonly made by following handed down family recipes.

Not only are sorrel and ginger beer delicious Christmas beverages but they are good for you too. Sorrel is said to ease colds, reduce fever, lower cholesterol and high blood pressure and contains a variety of vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, calcium, niacin, riboflavin and antioxidant flavonoids. Ginger is used to treat nausea, motion sickness, heart burn, cold, flu and migraine and is known to have more than twelve types of antioxidants. It also contains iron, vitamin C and folic acid.

So if you can get hold of fresh or dried sorrel and fresh ginger, I recommend adding these drinks to your holiday season menu. For the past few weeks, the beautiful rich red and spiky roselle sepals have made a welcome reappearance on the huckster stalls and vegetable markets here in Dominica, colourfully heralding the start of festivities.

I would love to share my family recipe but I’m afraid I have no idea how my Mum makes her sorrel beverage or ginger beer. She never seems to follow a recipe or measure anything she prepares, which is my convenient and worn out excuse for never learning to cook properly.

Here’s a link to Gayla’s recipe which I am sure will be just as delicious.

Joyeux Nwèl!!

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Born on the Nature Island of Dominica, Celia Sorhaindo lived many years in the UK and returned home in 2005. She is co-compiler of Home Again – Stories of Migration and Return, published by Papillote Press and former editor of the annual Dominica Food and Drink Guide magazine. In her spare time she likes nothing better than to rediscover the island of her birth by hiking and to share her view of Dominica through photography and writing.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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5 thoughts on “Sorrel, Ginger Beer and Midnight Mass

  1. That was great and it stirred up many a memory of Christmas time back home. The cloves in the sorrell just brought out the flavours too!! celia, your photos are excellent!!
    Love you

  2. It’s funny, I had to go to Baja Sur (Mexico) to have what they called “agua de Jamaica” (no ginger), only to discover that it is what is called sorrel by my Jamaican-American family. I will definitely be making Gayla’s Sorrel!

  3. I drank a lot of sorrel on the trip and worked out a secret ingredient — cinnamon. It makes the sorrel taste sweeter without adding sugar….

    My most up-to-date recipe is much improved. Unfortunately, I can’t post it here yet.

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