No, there will not be any instructions for cooking parrots in this post. The rosella that I am talking about is Hibiscus sabdariffa, and it is – or was – a popular ingredient for jams and jellies in Queensland. I understand that the rosella (or roselle) probably originated in West Africa, and grows throughout the tropical regions of the Old World. The shoots, stems, and leaves are edible, but it is the calyx of the plant that is of most culinary interest. It is from this part of the plant that the deliciously tart jelly and jam are made – and this is a labour of love indeed. The Queenslander of April 30, 1931 sums up the plant and the fiddly process of preserving, and also includes a couple of other alternative rosella dishes.
It seems a pity that the rosella appears to be so little known. It is one of the most useful products we have for the home preserver. Many years ago it was much more popular than it is at present, and in almost every farm and garden a bed of rosellas was to be found. The rosella makes excellent jam and jelly, while it forms a delicious relish to be eaten with cold meat. Rosella pie, when properly made, is a dish to be remembered with pleasure. In many households there is a prejudice against rosella preserves on account of the sharp flavour, but that can be overcome by the addition of a very small quantity of baking soda when cooking; care should be used however in making this addition or the product will be rendered tasteless. For most tastes a considerable proportion of sugar should be added to the jam. Those who prefer their preserves a little on the tart side are satisfied with the standard quantity of 1 lb. of sugar to each pound of fruit; while if it is to be used as a relish for meat, the proportion of ¾ lb of sugar is sufficient.
Although the rosella is spoken of a s a “fruit,” the part which is used for jam is more correctly described as a bract, serving the same purpose in growth oas the small ring of “leaves” which enclose the strawberry; only in the case of the rosella the bract is large and fleshy. The real fruit is the oval body enclosed within the bract, and which contains numerous seeds. This fruit plays an important part in the process of preserving, as it contains most of the jelly material, without which it is not easy to produce jam of a firm consistency. But the seeds cannot be included in the jam, so the capsules are boiled separately and the juice added to the bracts or “leaves.” When jelly is made the bracts and seed capsules are boiled together, as they are strained off, and only the juice is used.
In preparing rosellas for cooking, the common practice is to cut off the stalk with a ring of the fleshy bract and then push out the seed capsule with the blunt end of a lead pencil or other similar instrument ….A convenient little instrument for removing the capsules was devised many years ago … It materially lightens the task of preparation of the rosellas, which leaves the fingers in a rather uncomfortable condition for a few hours after cutting off the stems if many are done.
Push the seeds out of the husks with a pencil. Cut the seeds in halves, put onto boil, just covered with water, for half an hour, stirring occasionally. Strain, and add juice to husks. Boil until quite tender, then measure, and add either cupful for cupful or weight for weight of sugar, and boil again for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
[Jam and jelly are often used as a condiment with cold meats.]
Cut the rosellas, wash, but do not allow them to stand in the water. Place on a sieve to drain for a few minutes, and then put in a cool oven to dry for about eight or ten minutes. When ready, put into bottles, and pour the hot pickle over them. Fit for use in a week.
The pickle. – To each pint of vinegar, 6 cloves, 10 peppercorns, a piece of mace, cayenne pepper, and salt to taste. Boil all together for ten minutes.
Remove the seeds, stew the husks in a little water with cup for cup of sugar added, until quite tender. If too watery, add a little sago to thicken. Put in a piedish, cover with piecrust, and bake in the oven. When cooked, sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with custard.