Every two or three summers when I was a kid, the family would pile into the car and head to California for summer vacation. We’d go to Disneyland or the beach or Sea World. Sometimes we do all of the above. When I was about 11 or 12, I discovered something new at the San Diego Zoo. It was hot, as it often is during a West Coast summer, and I conned my Dad into buying me a strawberry popsicle. They were expensive, as popsicles go, so he must have been in a good mood. It was a moment that transformed my young life.
Up to this point, my experience with popsicles was like the one you had – overly sweet, artificially flavored colored water. With just one bite, I knew this one was different. First off, there were big chunks of fruit strewn throughout. Before, popsicles were described more by their color than flavor (“red”, “purple”, “blue”) but this day, it really was all about how the fruit tasted. It was amazing – pure strawberries in all their glory. I had a few more popsicles that day – likely pineapple, watermelon, coconut – as did the rest of my family. We were hooked and had several more that week as they seemed to be everywhere. We couldn’t get enough of these things.
I didn’t known it at the time, but in Hispanic neighborhoods the fruit popsicles known as paletas were commonplace and they were about to be found all over the place. These days, we don’t think about it that much as we stare through frosted doors at the unending supply of chilly treats at our grocery stores. But back then, pure fruit popsicles were a revelation.
This Christmas, I received an interesting little book about paletas from my mom, along with molds and additional sticks. (She is a great gift-giver and really thinks these things through.) I hadn’t had a chance to try them out until recently and with the weather inching toward triple digits, the timing couldn’t have been better. With this batch, I wanted to use the last of the farmer’s market strawberries but couldn’t quite get my act together in time and missed them. So I used berries from my local grocery store and since they didn’t have that exquisite flavor of locally picked, I utilized a favorite trick: hibiscus syrup.
A few months back, I made some berries macerated in a hibiscus syrup and the flavor was superior, so much more berry than the berries themselves, that I decided to do something similar here. I made a simple syrup, soaked the dried flowers to extract their essence then removed them. I added chopped berries and cooked the mixture, just a little, to soften the fruit then pureed it quickly in a blender with a little fresh lemon juice to brighten things up. Cooled a little then poured into molds, I waited. And waited. Freezing until solid is not a quick process.
Once unmolded, I couldn’t believe how delicious and how quickly these took me right back to that hot summer day at the zoo. Fresh and fruity and most importantly … cold. They were far superior than anything I could buy and ridiculously easy. I called them dinner for several scorching evenings this week.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: CHILLY PERFECTION. Anytime you can make something that transports you to a happy place, you’re on the right track. For me, it’s a strong childhood food memory, but in a sense popsicles do that for everyone, reminding them of ice cream trucks and hot summer days of fun. The flavor on these things is outstanding, bursting with all that is perfect about summer berries. Do it.
On this blog three years ago: Cajun Ginger Cookies
On this blog two years ago: A really great Flag Cake – just in time for July 4th!
On this blog one year ago: Sweet & Spicy Beer Mustard (please do make this)
STRAWBERRY HIBISCUS POPSICLES
Makes about 12 popsicles depending on the size of your molds
Dried hibiscus flowers are easily found in Hispanic markets. Note: you don’t have to have official molds but I do like mine. You can use small cups, freeze 30 minutes then insert the sticks, but I’ll be honest, the molds are much easier with a “set it and forget it” mentality.
2 cups water
1 ¼ cup sugar
2/3 cup dried hibiscus flowers (flor de Jamaica)
2 pounds strawberries, hulled & roughly chopped – about 6 cups (2 large quart-size clamshells)
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Bring the sugar and water to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until sugar is dissolved.
- Add the hibiscus flowers and let boil for 3 minutes.
- Take off the heat and steep at least 60 minutes or up to several hours.
- Strain the syrup to remove the hibiscus flowers. Discard the flowers. You should have around 1 ½ cups syrup.
- Add the syrup and chopped strawberries back to the pot and let sit to macerate for 30-60 minutes.
- Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 3 minutes – you want to soften the berries, not cook them.
- Add the lemon juice, stir to combine and let the mixture cool.
- Quickly puree in a blender or with an immersion blender, in batches if you have to, until fairly but not completely smooth.
- Pour the mixture into popsicle molds, top with the lid and insert popsicle sticks (or do whatever your mold instructions tell you to do.)
- Freeze until firm – at least 8 hours.
- Unmold, wrap in plastic and store in the freezer.