Festive Sorrel Wine for the Holidays

12/29/2011 05:17 pm ET | Updated Feb 28, 2012


Sorrel or roselle plant before it's dried. (Photo by Trina Sargalski.)

I've been asking people what foods are essential to their holiday table. For Leslie King of Fort Lauderdale, it's sorrel wine, which is a bright red, festive drink popular in the Caribbean.

What food is essential to your holiday table?

Sorrel wine, which has a variety of ingredients. It's usually made from dried and packaged sorrel, kind of like how mushrooms are dried and packaged. You boil them in water to soften them again. We like to add a lot of ginger, so we boil the sorrel with ginger. Once the water cools off, you strain off the sorrel. We add a couple of ingredients, but we always include rum.

Rum is essential to most West Indian dishes. We use Wray and Nephew Overproof rum. My family also adds Manischewitz Malaga wine, brown sugar and some additional pieces of ginger to give it that kick. It's stirred over ice and lasts a good while. It's not heavy in alcohol -- just a refreshing drink.

This particular recipe is actually a new version. Prior to two years ago, we didn't make it with the Manischewitz. I learned it from an aunt. The addition of the Manischewitz Malaga wine changed the sorrel completely. It changed it from a mostly sweet drink to a delicious wine drink.

What part of the world is this recipe from?

My family is from Jamaica.

What other foods do you enjoy at the holidays?

New Year's Eve is my favorite because we are treated to saltfish (cod fish) and ackee with dumplings (fried biscuits) and yams (white) and boiled green bananas for breakfast. For dinner we have curry goat with rice and peas and finish off with the fruitcake.

Why is this essential to your holiday table?

We've always had sorrel wine at the holidays. It was something that my grandfather also gave us at Christmas time and something my mom kept up after my grandfather passed. I think it's so important because growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, West Indian foods weren't readily available so it was the only time that my mother really spoke about the food and drinks she enjoyed in her childhood. Her father would often send her a bottle of the sorrel syrup and she would use it to make sorrel drink. We would have that with the fruitcake, which was laced with rum and the dried fruit peels. It was her way of remembering her childhood and it also gave us some family traditions that our neighbors and schoolmates had no idea about.

Now that I'm here in South Florida and see so many families that enjoy it, I feel closer to the community my mother enjoyed growing up. It's just something you make and enjoy with your family -- you spend time. You get to share family recipes. It's a treat. Something to share and pass down from generation to generation.

What would your holiday be like if you didn't have the sorrel wine?

Well there's been some times when we haven't had the sorrel wine, to be quite truthful. We're from Cleveland so you don't always have the ingredients readily available there like you do here in South Florida. So it's a particular treat, now residing here in South Florida, because we get to have it all year round and particularly at the holidays when we bottle it and give it to family members along with the fruitcake.

Read more about holiday foods in South Florida at Sound Bite where this post originally appeared.