Doesn’t the title just say it all? It’s not store-bought, it’s not pre-mixed, it’s not made from powdery packaged hibiscus teas of uncertain provenance. This is a margarita made of lime, love, and hibiscus flowers blooming in the garden.
After the immense success of her Lavender Blues series of drinks and deserts, the mother’s younger son set her her second primary color challenge. “You’ve done blue,” he said, ever the tinkerer and experimenter, “Now do red.”
“Oh but that’s easy,” said the mother.
“Show me,” said the boy.
So they wandered out into the hot summer garden to pick hibiscus flowers, thanking each bush in turn for the flowers which seemed not to care whether there was water or cool breeze to keep coming, and coming, and coming.
Making “power syrup,” as hibiscus syrups are known in these parts, named by the significance assigned the hibiscus flower itself, is a cottage industry–no secret, and no exotic formula. It’s a birthday party staple, in place of Tropicana tetra-packs (thank heavens). Everyone from Naturellement (the jam- and syrup-producing unit, not the cafe) and your average round-the-corner auntie makes it. But still, the boy and his mother decided to chart their own course.
They prepped the flowers by removing calyces and stamens (and chasing away armies of hungry ants — hibiscus is a treat for them, too, yes!). Older brother assisted by taking these photographs:
Next, There are two ways to extract color from hibiscus, they learned.
METHOD 1 was to simply pour hot water over fresh petals, and watch in amazement as they wilted and blanched.
The red liquid strained would be made into a simple syrup with the addition of sugar (1 cup liquid to 1 cup sugar). The syrup needs considerable boiling down if it’s to be used as a concentrate–but the method gives a fine-tuned control over color: hibiscus is PH-sensitive, so add lime and it becomes bright red; do without, and it retains gorgeous deep magenta tones.
But of course the color needed to be extracted right away, and fresh petals turn slimy if left too long in hot water, so it was all quite time-sensitive. [On the flip side, it’s a quick and spectacular syrup to produce on the fly, for those times when there’s no time to do much else.]
METHOD 2 was the more common method, and since it involved collecting and drying hibiscus petals, it could be made at leisure. But since color was extracted with lime juice, there was really only one color to be had at the end: a deep, dark, red that brightens with dilution.
So, collect flowers…
Steep them in lime juice to extract color…
And then at last create a simple syrup (that is by default, a deep, dark red). How many limes? Just as many as will produce juice enough to submerge the dried petals, so it depends on how many petals you have. We used about 8 limes. Yes, you could use lemons, too, for a slightly different flavor.
“So now we’ve done red,” said the mother to her son. “But what do we do with red?”
“That’s easy,” he said because he loved oranges so, “Add orange juice and make a sunset.” So, they did, topped with soda, and it was as rejuvenating as watching the sunset in a cool evening breeze.
But while the boy was happy with his drink, the mother wasn’t yet done playing with red–which deserved to be in a drink all its own, she thought, and not the kiddie birthday party sort, preferably. Each night after the boy was in bed, she played with gins and tonics. Nope. Vodka was boring. Cosmopolitans were already done, and so were Tequila Sunrises. Besides, they were too much for this little syrup from the garden, too loud, too overwhelming, and not celebrating hibiscus for its own sake.
But a hibiscus margarita? A 3-2-1 combination of tequila (reposado), fresh hibiscus syrup, cointreau, and a dash of fresh lime–shaken with ice and served in a salt-rimmed glass?
Now that was absolutely perfect.
The recipes Hibiscus Syrup
Collect red hibiscus flowers, and remove and discard the calyces and stamens. Wash the petals thoroughly.
- Immerse the petals in barely enough drinking water to cover them.
- Lift out the petals with a slotted spoon and place in a heatproof bowl. Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan.
- When the water has boiled, pour it over the petals, and use a wooden spoon to stir.
- Once you see the petals blanching, strain out the liquid and discard the petals.
- Measure the red liquid and prepare a simple syrup by adding sugar in a 1:1 proportion (1 cup liquid to 1 cup sugar). Bring this to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and then leaving to boil down for about a 1/2 hour.
- You can add strained lime juice at this stage — to taste.
- Remember than more lime means the color of the liquid turns increasingly red–so if you want a more magenta syrup, add less.
- Bottle and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
- NOTE: this method is faster, gives better control of color, but produces a syrup that is slightly more perishable than Method 2 below.
- Lay the washed petals out on a large tray, and leave them in as hot a spot in the sun to dry. A kitchen window might work, as might an oven (on a very low temperature setting — like 75F or less), but I’ve tried neither. An outside sunny location is best.
- Extract juice from enough limes or lemons to get about 1 cup. Immerse the dried petals in the juice, using a wooden spoon to press them down and allow them to re-hydrate.
- Add more juice if necessary.
- Allow this mixture to sit for several hours, or overnight.
- Once the color has steeped into the liquid, strain out the petals, reserving the liquid.
- If there’s still color left in the petals, you can repeat the process with more lime juice, or use a bit of hot water to pull out the last bit of color — add the hot water to the lime juice concentrate you reserved in the last step.
- Measure the red liquid and prepare a simple syrup by adding sugar in a 1:1 proportion (1 cup liquid to 1 cup sugar). Heat this mixture, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and then leaving to boil down slightly (about 15 minutes).
- Bottle and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
- NOTE: this method takes longer, and produces only a deep red syrup, but allows for extraction of color from more petals. The acidity of the syrup + the fact that the lime juice used to extract color is already less than the water used in Method 1 means that you’ll get a concentrate faster with this one. It will also keep longer.
Hibiscus Sunset Fizzy [Non-Alcoholic]
- Ingredients: fresh hibiscus syrup, juice of 1/2 an orange, soda, ice
- Pour 1-2 oz of the hibiscus concentrate into a glass.
- Drop a few ice cubes on top.
- Follow with the juice of 1/2 an orange (or equivalent). Pour this on slowly, so as not to disturb the concentrate at the base.
- Top up with soda, once again pouring slowly
Fresh Hibiscus Margarita
- 1 1/2 oz tequila (I used reposado)
- 1 oz fresh hibiscus syrup
- 1/2 oz cointreau (not triple sec)
- splash of fresh lime juice
- salt for the glass
- lime wedges to garnish
- Prepare your glass: pour a little salt into a dish. Run lime around the rim of your glass, and dip in the salt dish. Set aside
- Mix the tequila, hibiscus syrup, cointreau, and splash of fresh lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice and shake well until chilled
- Put ice cubes into the prepped glasses, taking care not to disturb the salt on the rims. Top with the chilled margarita.
- Garnish with lime wedges and serve immediately.