Shadow Jack recently read an article entitled something like, “Ten Foods That Will Totally Kill You Dead if You Don’t Use the Organic Version,” and was seized with a sudden urge to swing by Trader Joe’s and stock up on organic potatoes. I was nosing around their dried-fruit aisle and was sufficiently intrigued by their candied hibiscus flowers to pick up a package.
I’m abundantly familiar with dried hibiscus flowers, which make a lovely tart cooler and a brilliant red tea (and can also be used to infuse tequila, yum), but I’d never run into the candied version. They’re…interesting. The texture is rather like thick fruit leather, chewy and a little bit tough. The flavor is mildly sweet-tart and reminds me of dried cranberries.
However, they look really weird and alien pod-like and I can totally see Cthulhu garnishing his martini with one. I doubt you’ll want to eat them out of hand, but they’d be a fantastic decoration for cakes or beverages.
I did some looking online and Trader Joe’s appears to be the only source for the candied flowers, so readers without a local TJs may have to improvise. Flowers packed in syrup seem to be more widely available Amazon has a couple of different sources), which are probably fine to drop in a drink but might be a little limp to use as a garnish. It may be possible to drain them (save the syrup to drizzle over cakes or mix with seltzer), roll them gently in sugar, then dry them on racks to firm them up. If you’ve got a local source for fresh hibiscus, you might also try candying them yourself.
Most recipes for candied flowers involve sugaring the individual petals, but the whole hibiscus is so big and meaty that I think you’d candy them more like fruit. The eHow site has instructions for making glaced fruit, and this recipe for candied pineapple might also work (now that I think of it, you might be able to candy whole rosebuds this way too).
As is usual when preserving flowers–or anything else you’ve picked, for that matter–make sure that you’ve correctly identified the plant and aren’t about to chow down on something toxic. Also ensure that the flowers haven’t been sprayed with chemicals such as pesticides, and don’t collect them from sources near roads (automobile exhaust contains a lot of stuff you probably don’t want to eat).
Once preserved and dried, they should keep quite a while if sealed airtight and then frozen.
They really do make a striking presentation, so I hope you’ll seek out a source or try to candy them yourself. The next time you invite the Elder Gods over for dinner, they’ll be really impressed.
(Image from Cooking with Trader Joe’s)