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Reclaiming Sorrel

Larissa Blokhuis, #ArrivalsAlum and ALP Communications and Admin Coordinator, reflects on her connection to Jamaican culture through sorrel.

The first thing to know about sorrel is that everyone has their own recipe. For a Caribbean version, you can add one, some, or all, of: ginger, orange peel, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, bay leaves, pimento, star anise, rum, sugar. African versions may also include mint, lime, pineapple, watermelon. There are localised recipes spread across Asia as well.

Hibiscus sabdariffa goes by many names, including sorrel (which can also refer to rumex acetosa), roselle, Jamaican hibiscus. My Black ancestors were taken from West Africa, Igboland, and in that language it is called ojō, or ọkwọrọ-ozo. These ancestors were brought to Taino Lands, Xamayca, where it’s called sorrel, which is how I will refer to it.

Shortly after marrying in Toronto, my parents moved to Calgary to afford a house. Aside from Lloyd’s Patties, there were few places and people to share Jamaican culture. I remember my first drink of sorrel in Toronto, received from a friend of my cousin’s partner. Not too sweet, good amount of ginger, very refreshing.

In my work to reconnect with Jamaican culture, I begin a search for sorrel in my current city, Vancouver. I check multiple grocery stores, where staff have never heard of sorrel. I’m directed to a restaurant that only sells to-go-cups of sorrel, but I want a supply not a sip.

I mention my search to Diane, and who offers to send me some from Toronto. Yesssss!!!!!  It arrives with a card bearing an Audre Lord quote, and Diane’s recipe which of course is not like any of the other recipes I’ve seen.

Having spoken with my friend Adora (Jamaican/Nigerian – nutmeg, sorrel, and sugar), my mum (Jamaican – ginger, rum, sorrel, and sugar), and Diane (Garifuna – cloves, sorrel, and sugar) I now have a number of recipes to try, and soon I will have my own recipe too.  

I have tried the best, and next I try nearly everything!

Sorrel, orange peel, cinnamon, cloves (in the metal ball), ginger, and ground nutmeg and pimento in a custom tea bag. I don’t enjoy throwing out food, so next I candy the sorrel and ginger. My new fave snack! The sorrel takes in the flavours of the other ingredients, and the clove-sorrel from my first batch is truly delicious. I will definitely continue my flavour experiments with sorrel. Do you have a sorrel recipe to share?

Do you have an experience with reconnection that you’d like to write about?  We want to share these stories!  In 2024, we will ask the Arrivals community to create posts for us to share across social media platforms, to encourage conversation about the parts of our cultures that bring us joy.  Contact me at outreach@arrivalslegacy.com.

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