Labor Day Weekend = Caribbean soda time!

In honor of the West Indies day parade, we'll be bringing strictly island flavors for all the Caribbean people! (or any and all island dwelling, or island loving people)  The West Indies = the islands in the Caribbean.  The name derives from Columbus, who thought he was on the west side of India when he arrived.  The history of the region is fascinating and tumultuous, heavily shaped by colonialism and the slave trade, but that's a whole other topic for another time, we're here to talk about fruit!  Caroline is from Hong Kong and I'm half Puerto Rican (a part of the West Indies of course). Both are tropical islands that love their fruit, so tropical flavors are especially fun for us.  Please come out and taste!

The flavors at the Brooklyn Flea this Saturday will be:

  • Sorrel
  • Ginger and Lime
  • Cherimoya (sweetsop)

Sorrel is the name the Jamaicans, and most other Caribbean people, give to the drink made from the flowers of the roselle hibiscus plant (if you're into botany, the flavorful parts are technically the red calyxes made of the sepals, more than the actual small white petals that we normally think of as the flower). 

It's usually just called hibiscus in English.  In Mexico it's used in one of the most popular aguas frescas and is called flor de Jamaica.  Hibiscus has a bright red color and a slightly sour, tannic taste- almost like a mix of mild cranberry and tea.  Jamaicans make their sorrel drink with ginger and sometimes cinnamon (and frequently a shot of rum) especially around christmas.  In Trinidad and Tobago cinnamon and clove are added more often than ginger.  Many more kinds of regional variations exist.  Sorrel is also popular in Africa, Mali and Senegal especially, where it's called bissop and is sometimes made with mint and/or ginger (try abistro on Carlton ave near Myrtle for an excellent example).  Brooklyn Soda Works sorrel soda is made with lots of hibiscus and a touch of ginger, cinnamon and raw cane sugar.

Ginger should certainly need no introduction to anyone familiar with Brooklyn Soda Works, we put it in everything!  Here it's done simple, island-style with lime and raw cane sugar.  Be warned though- we'll be making it to the proper West Indies level of spiciness!

Sweetsop is a catch-all name that refers to some of the smaller, sweeter members of the annona family of fruits.  It gets complicated as there are lots of varieties of annona with many, many names (chirimoya, sweetsop, anón, sugar-apple, ata, custard apple, pawpaw, anona corazón to name a few).  To simplify things you can group them into 3 broad categories- the big, green, spiky one (most commonly called soursop or guanábana), the green, roundish, pinecone-looking ones (sugar apple or sweetsop or sometimes custard apple), and our flavor this week- the greenish/yellowish, scaly, heart-shaped ones (chirimoya or sometimes sweetsop). 

The name sweetsop is a reference to the most popular (at least in PR and Jamaica) annona fruit- soursop (guanábana en español).  Soursop is definitely still sweet but it has a slight acidity even when ripe.  Sweetsop or chirimoya is a bit sweeter and has a lighter, more candy-like flavor and smell.  I would have liked to do a soursop flavor, but they are very difficult to find in the US since they are soft and fragile and difficult to import.  They are also most definitely a tropical fruit, and even though some people have been successful growing mini soursop trees in the southern-most parts of Florida, they apparently can't be commercially cultivated anywhere in the US.  June or September are your best chance to find them here, as those are the 2 peaks of the season in the Caribbean.  Just be prepared to shell out as much as $6-$10 per fruit, which isn't that bad since they are so delicious and can weigh up to a kilogram.  The flavor, like most of the other annona fruits, is kinda like a banana/pineapple mix with a bit of passion fruit. They can be up to 12 inches in diameter and weigh over a kilogram.  It's very popular in PR to eat plain but especially as an ice cream flavor and in batidos or licuados (frothy milk and fruit pulp drinks).  It's also candied and used in all kinds of gummies and sweets.  This week's soda is made from chirimoya, which comes from the andes so it's not the most appropriate member of the annona family to use, but it was the only one I could get my hands on this week.  They are definitely found in the Caribbean, in fact my father just reminded me that my grandparents have a tree on their property in Puerto Rico (along with multiple mango, pomegranate, cashew, coconut and grapefruit trees and some hammocks... and it's about 20 yards from the beach... all of which I try really hard not to think about when I'm trudging knee deep through grey/brown snow in nyc) anyways, the ones I'm using came from Chile. They were just juiced and carbonated, no sugar or anything else added, they're perfectly delicious just on their own.