Roselle Jam

Marissa     Eats and Drinks         1    

I’ve always enjoyed a glass of Jamaica tea. That’s “ha-my-ka” as in flor de Jamaica, the Spanish name for a type of Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa). About 10 years ago, I started seeing it more and more in restaurants in the US under the more generic name Hibiscus tea. I’ve also seen it called roselle, or rosella when used as foodstuff in Australia and other countries.

A few years ago, my mom decided to grow some at the farm. It was an experiment and a bit of a novelty. We dried it and used it as tea as always. Then last year, she grew TONS of it. Faced with a mountain of the stuff, we decided to branch out and see what else we could do with it.

Roselle grows into a quite a bush, sometimes topping 6 feet tall and about that in diameter. The bush has a rather demure bloom compared to what most people think of for hibiscus (the bloom looks more like okra if you ask me). After the flower is pollinated, it dries and the seedpod forms with a thick fleshy calyx around it. Er, what’s a calyx? The calyx (or, the collection of sepals) around the petals of a flower are typically a cup-shaped green part. Think of a carnation with that perfect little green cup holding all the petals together. In most flowers, its role ends when the flower wilts and dries up. But in some plants, like the roselle, the calyx continues to grow after the flower dies and forms a thick encasing around the seedpod.

We started harvesting our roselle last September and the dehydrator was working overtime to turn all the fleshy sea creature pods into a storable commodity for our winter tea supply. But one weekend in October, I ventured out of our normal routine.

I couldn’t find an exact recipe for roselle jam (i.e. 2 lbs roselle, 1 cup water, etc). Instead, I found just some basic guidelines. Even though I’ve been making jam/jelly and canning for about 6 years, I haven’t made all that many batches so I like to follow a recipe to the letter. But that just wasn’t going to happen this time. So I just went with it.

Mom cored a “bucket” of roselle (one recipe did specifically call for “one bucket”) saving both the calyx and the seedpods. When we make dried roselle for tea, it’s just the calyx part. I took the goods home and began my adventure.

First, I put all the seedpods in a big stockpot and covered them with cool water. Brought that to a boil and simmered for 15 minutes  – the seedpods were starting to look somewhat cooked at that point.

I strained the seedpods and discarded them. Our ducks weren’t interested but they won’t even eat bread, so the seedpods went on the compost pile. The leftover water is full of pectin – the agent that helps jams and jellies set up and thicken.  I was surprised at how red the water was! I guess just the small coloring on the stem ends is enough.

To this water, I added all the calyxes. At first I wasn’t sure this looked right. It seemed like far too much fruit and not enough water.

But the calyxes are big hollow constructions so within a few minutes, they had softened and began to fall apart. Soon, everything was under the liquid. At this point, I measured the fruit pulp – I had 7 cups.

Most recipes I found called for an equal volume of sugar to fruit. I don’t like super sweet so I figured on using 6 cups of sweetener. And for fun, I used 5 cups of sugar and 1 cup of honey. I added this to the pulp and cooked over very gentle heat until it boiled. It probably took about 10 minutes to boil and then I boiled for 15 minutes until the jam started to look like it was setting on a saucer from the freezer. I’m no good at doing any of the tests for gelling – I’m so worried I’m going to overcook it that I don’t think I’ve ever achieved proper set. Sigh. But on the second batch, I nailed it! Boiling for 25 minutes with about the same amount of pulp made it set up nicely.

The jam has the same flavor as the hibiscus tea (somewhat tart but sweet) and you can taste just a touch of honey. There is also an underlying earthy tone that I had noticed before in the tea until  trying the jam. But now I can recognize it in the tea – it’s somehow amplified in the jam.

I love using the jam for anything. We substituted it for cranberry relish at Thanksgiving and got plenty of compliments. One of our family traidtions is kolache cookies for Christmas filled with various fruit preserves. Last year I did roselle jam and jalepeno jelly. Wonderful!

But my favorite thing to do is just simply eat it with cream cheese on a scone. Perfect treat any time of the day.

We ran out of the jam by springtime but we still have plenty of dried tea left. We won’t be harvesting roselle for a few more months but I plan to make much more jam this year. Can’t wait!

1 comment

  • OldManMtn said:

    Dec 02, 2013 11:31 pm

    just harvest a about 5kg of fresh roselle.
    will give this a try with 1kg, then more if successful.
    thanks for sharing.
    best wishes