My very first week in town at my very first Downtown Durham Market last summer I came across the Waterdog Farms stand, a small tea farmstead located north of Durham and Hillsborough. From across the stall, I couldn’t help but notice their axolotl (google it) logo! I probably came off as very rude, as the sight of that sign took me daydreaming back to my days of newt and amphibian pet keeping. Snapping out of it, I noticed these odd hibiscus fruits. I had figured that hibiscus flowers bloomed out of something, but I was never aware of hibiscus fruits, also called rosellas. Made up of a seedpod and a stout fleshy red calyx, rosellas can be used in a variety of culinary ways including: tea infusions, food coloring, and jams and preserves. The plan was to pickle them, but when I figured out exactly what they were, jam seemed like a better bet.
I scooped up a hearty pint of rosellas, a huge stalk of fresh ginger from Waterdog, and grabbed some fresh blueberries and citrus from my local grocer. Depending on your process, the seedpods are in fact a great source of pectin. My attempt didn’t go so well as I forgot to cover the pot and all my pectin evaporated off, but if you simply cover and boil the seedpods in just enough water for 10-15 minutes you will get rosella derived pectin. Great for jams and jelly making! A tart somewhat bitter, mildly sweet, and vibrantly red jam. Serve this jam as you would any berry jam. My choice will be atop a scone or a fresh-out-of-the-oven biscuit.
When I started this blog post the plan was to give a very brief history of muscadine grapes, their health benefits, and their history. One wiki search later and I quickly realized, “oh man, there is a lot to learn, and love, about these medium-sized, funny textured grapes!” So, where to start?
“Of the bounteous store of natural gifts… upon the soil of North Carolina few have been more celebrated than the muscadine grape…” Discovered (not really as it was already growing in nature) in 1755, the muscadine grape (commonly referred to as a scuppernong) was first cultivated in North Carolina. Much less common than your typical market grapes, muscadine grapes offer a wealth of nutrition from bowel regulating (think fiber), to weight management (think fiber again), and rich in antioxidants. “One study… found that muscadines are a particularly good source of ellagic acid…. appears to inhibit cancer cell reproduction… Muscadine grapes also contain twice as much vitamin C as seedless grapes.”