Christmas Libations in Trinidad: Sorrel


This post is for #LetsLunch, a monthly virtual potluck on Twitter.  Our theme this month is Celebrations Around the World.  Here’s a Christmas tradition from my husband’s native Trinidad.  

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Christmas season in North America is synonymous with images of Santa and the North Pole, candy canes and snow.  It’s hard to transfer these images onto a tropical Caribbean island.  There may not be snow In Trinidad, but Christmas is celebrated with equal enthusiasm. It’s mercifully less commercialized, and celebrated with local traditions which illustrate the multicultural influences which shaped Trinidad’s creole culture– native Amerindian, African, Indian and British colonial.  It’s a time to visit family and friends and to enjoy special foods that are associated with the season.

On this music loving island (where steel pan, calypso, soca and chutney were all born), there is also local Christmas music.  Traditionally, parranderos, the local version of carolers, would go from door to door with guitars and local string and percussion instruments to sing parang, Christmas folk music with Venezuelan origins.  Parang was brought to Trinidad by Venezuelan migrants who were primarily of Amerindian and African heritage. The word is derived from two Spanish words: parranda, meaning a “spree or fête” and parar meaning “to stop.”  Modern parang is more likely to be found in concert arenas, and it has morphed together with Trinidad’s soca into a new form known as soca parang, sung in English instead of Spanish.  Sarina, of, recently posted an excellent history of parang.  Here’s a video from the Queen of Parang, Daisy Voisin:

What’s on the Trini Christmas table? You’ll still find a Christmas ham, but it will be flanked by treats you won’t find elsewhere.  Hands are busy wrapping tamale-like pastelles, and serious home cooks are baking traditional Trinidad black cakes with fruit that’s been soaking in rum since the year before.  No one would blink an eye to find curry and roti sitting side by side on the table with the pastelles and ham, and instead of Christmas tree shaped sugar cookies you’re more likely to find barfi, the Indian milk sweet.  You’ll need a drink to wash down this feast.  It would likely be ginger beer, Trinidad’s Carib beer, or ponche de creme, the local version of eggnog that’s spiked with tropical flavors of lime, Angostura bitters and local rum.  And my favorite, sorrel, which is brewed from dried hibiscus flowers, which in Mexico are known as flor de jamaica, sweetened with sugar and steeped with sweet spices.  My husband’s Auntie Doll, who shared her pastelles recipe with me, also makes a mean sorrel.  Her secret? Brandy, “to taste.” Cheers!


Auntie Doll, visiting San Francisco

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photo via Wikipedia


1-1/2 cups dried hibiscus/sorrel/jamaica flowers (available at Latin and Caribbean markets as “flor de jamaica”)

Water, 3 quarts

Sugar, to taste

My secret ingredients: cinnamon stick, star anise

Auntie Doll’s secret ingredient: brandy to taste


1.  Place hibiscus flowers, spices, and water into a large pot and bring to a boil.

2.  Add sugar to taste.

3.  Simmer until you have a beverage the color of cranberry juice.

4.   Add brandy to taste, if you like.

5.  Strain, and serve over ice.

Here are more holiday traditions and recipes from my #LetsLunch friends on Twitter:

Annabelle’s Pecan Slices at Glass of Fancy

Emma’s Latkes at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Grace’s Persimmon Salad at Hapa Mama

Lucy’s Ham and Cheddar Scones at A Cook and Her Books

Joe’s Orange Honey Cake

Pat’s Multi-Culti Christmas at The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook


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Thanks so much for coming by.  If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment and/or share this with your friends.  I’d love to hear about more holiday traditions around the world.

Happy Holidays, however you celebrate!

19 responses

  1. Pingback: Glass of Fancy » Blog Archive » Christmas Cookies, Fort Worth Style - Fashion, fiction, and life in the city.

  2. I love hearing about the celebrations (food!) from all around…& I love your writing–it brings everything to life! Happy holidays to you, & thanks to you & Auntie Doll for sharing the secrets of Sorrel!

  3. Pingback: Feasting, Fetes and Parang– Christmas in Trinidad | spicebox travels

  4. Pingback: Ponche de Creme– Trinidadian Egg Nog | spicebox travels

  5. This is the best site I have come across as a trini living in the US!

    In my family, we would add a few cloves, a small piece of ginger and a small ‘ciliment’ leaf in addition to the cinnamon (which looks like bark lol) . I personally don’t like the taste of the leaf so I don’t use it.

    My mom used cherry brandy. I guess it’s all how your mom/grandmom did it!

  6. Pingback: Trinidadian Black Eyed Peas for Old Year’s and New Beginnings | spicebox travels

  7. Pingback: Hibiscus Flower and Potato Tacos and Agua de Jamaica | spicebox travels

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