chef santi hibiscus flower punch
PHOTO COURTESY SANTI GABINO BOTTLED-UP — Chef Santi’s Hibiscus Flower Punch is bottled and ready for gift-giving. Thanks to the rum, the punch will keep in the refrigerator for up to two months.

“Ah, September! You are the doorway to the season that awakens my soul … but I must confess that I love you only because you are a prelude to my beloved October.”

— Peggy Toney Horton

chef santi gabino
About Chef Santi
Santi Gabino Jr. lives in DeLand with his husband, Oscar, and their two crazy dogs, Hope and Athena. Santi is a self-taught chef who has been in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years. When not making a mess in his kitchen, Santi enjoys painting, antiquing, classic movies, working on his home and exploring Florida’s many small towns. If you have questions for the chef, please email them to

It would seem by the onslaught of pumpkin-spiced everything — along with myriad candles promising warm, enveloping scents of campfires, flannel shirts and candy corn — that, although it may not climatically feel like it, fall has arrived.

Unlike in states farther north, the season, for us, is not ushered in with the changing of the leaves, apple-picking or cool, crisp evenings.

Yet, our pining and craving for autumnal splendor is fervent and strong. I would venture to say that our enduring six months of warm weather makes the change of seasons, however minute, something we can wholeheartedly and enthusiastically embrace.

The heat and humidity, like two trusty sidekicks, are still very much present, but September brings with it a much-welcomed glimpse of the approaching holiday season.

September is a preview, a high-budget, theatrical trailer with a booming and boisterous score in the background. It is an assurance that kids will soon be trick-or-treating, of costume contests, of festive meals eaten with family.

As the flag-bearer of autumn, September evokes a level of coziness that only fall and winter can provide.

In Brazil and Portugal, one often hears the word “saudade.” It is untranslatable, as there is no direct translation for it. However, it refers to an ardent desire or longing. It is a profound feeling of emotionally laden nostalgia for experiences, feelings, people and even places.

To me, September and the arrival of fall bring on a “saudade” for all the warm and fuzzy feelings of comfort, of home.

It’s the same reason you can’t get rid of that favorite old sweater of yours that is threadbare and well-worn and most likely has a couple of holes. Its warmth and familiarity are like a soothing embrace.

And, so, with all that in mind, I hope that you will enjoy the recipes I have prepared for this month. Much like your favorite fall candle, they are meant to assuage the spirit, but above all they are meant to help unlock the jubilant door to the holiday season, which, unbelievable as it may seem, will very soon be upon us.

This first recipe is a traditional holiday-time punch hailing from Jamaica and the Caribbean, but variations of it are quite popular in Mexico, as well. It is made with dried hibiscus flowers, which are often called “sorrel” in the islands and “flor de Jamaica” in Mexico.

You may find the flowers locally at many Mexican markets, such as La Calentana on Florida Avenue in DeLand, and sometimes on Friday nights at the Artisan Alley Growers and Makers Market in Downtown DeLand.

You may also purchase them online on Amazon. Online, a pound of them will run you around $14. A hefty dose of fresh ginger along with a combination of orange peel and warm spices gives this garnet-hued libation its unmistakable zing!

Hibiscus Flower Punch

WORK IN PROGRESS — Above are the picturesque ingredients for Chef Santi Gabino’s Hibiscus Flower Punch.

1 pound dried hibiscus flowers

1 large ginger root (about 5 ounces),

peeled and chopped

10 allspice berries

12 whole cloves

3 cinnamon sticks

1 orange peel

Simple syrup

6 cups of water

1 cup White Rum (or more if

you so desire)

In a large pot, place the water, flowers, ginger, allspice, cloves, cinnamon sticks and orange peel. Bring to a boil for about 10 minutes, and remove from the heat.

Allow to cool slightly, and pour into a large glass or ceramic (non-metallic) bowl, and allow this mixture to steep overnight and for up to two days.

OOH, THAT COLOR — Drinks made with dried hibiscus flowers, or “sorrel” as the Jamaicans say, are as beautiful as they are tasty, presenting a deep red to decorate any table. These cordial glasses hold Hibiscus Flower Punch.

Make a simple syrup by placing 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Allow the mixture to come to a boil, stirring a couple of times, and let it simmer on low-medium heat for 3-5 minutes.

This mixture will bubble up and be extremely hot! Do not leave it unattended, and use caution during this step.

Allow the mixture to cool completely, and place it in a container in the refrigerator. After the hibiscus-flower mixture has steeped at least overnight, strain it well through a fine metal sieve.

Combine the mixture with the simple syrup you made, and add your rum. At this point, you may add more rum if you wish.

I pour the mixture into bottles and keep it in the fridge. They make great gifts! Because of the rum, this punch will last in the fridge for up to two months.

Always be sure to shake the bottle before serving. I like to serve it in small cordial glasses, although you may also serve it over crushed ice with a splash more of rum and a slice of orange as a garnish.

You may also make the punch without alcohol, and simply enjoy it as a tart, refreshing holiday drink.

Either way, it is delicious and something I make every year!

This next recipe is a classic Cuban corn soup or chowder that eats like a meal. It is fairly hearty, so you really don’t need much else to go with it. We usually eat it with a side of white rice, fresh bread for dunking, and a side salad.

The following is my mother-in-law’s recipe. If you’re up to it, you can use freshly shucked corn in place of the canned. This recipe uses the canned, so you could easily make this on a weeknight.

Mabel’s Guiso de Maiz (Cuban Corn Chowder)

DELICIOUS — Above is a peek at a bowl of Mabel’s Guiso de Maiz.

2 large onions, peeled and chopped

1 large green bell pepper, chopped

8 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely

1 large ham steak, cut into chunks

2 small, dried Spanish chorizos, sliced into quarter-inch rounds (such as El Miño or Palacios brands, available at Fancy Fruit, Bravo Supermarket or the like)

1 pound of pork chunks seasoned liberally with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and dried oregano

4 cans creamed corn

2 cans regular corn, drained

6 cups of chicken stock

4 large potatoes, peeled and diced

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed

In a heavy-bottomed large pot, add a little olive oil and brown the ham, chorizo and pork. Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to brown each one individually. Once browned, set the meat aside on a plate.

In the same pan, add a bit more oil and sauté the onions, pepper and garlic for 5-7 minutes, and season with salt and pepper.

Return the meats to the pan, and add the corn, followed by the chicken stock, potatoes and squash. Reduce the heat to low, and let simmer for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally.

Alternatively, after all the ingredients have been added, you could transfer the soup to a crockpot to cook on low for four hours.

Serve with a side of bread and/or rice, and a salad. A simple sliced-tomato salad is a good accompaniment to this dish, as the acidity helps cut through the richness of the chowder.

County Fair Apple Cider Doughnut Bread

FITTING FOR FALL EATING — Above is a freshly made loaf of County Fair Apple Cider Doughnut Bread, liberally sprinkled with a topping made from butter, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.

2 cups of all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 Tsp. Cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

½ cup vegetable oil

½ cup brown sugar

¼ cup white sugar

½ cup apple cider, not apple juice

1 cup full-fat vanilla yogurt

2 eggs


2 tablespoons melted butter

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Tiny pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Cut a piece of parchment so that it will line the bottom of a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan. Grease the pan, and line it with the paper on the bottom.

Mix the baking soda with the yogurt in a little bowl, and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown and white sugars, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

To this dry mix, add the eggs, oil and yogurt mixture. Then, add the apple cider, and beat until the mixture is smooth, but be careful to not overmix it.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake until a toothpick placed into the center comes out clean. Depending on your oven, this may be 50 minutes or so. Begin checking it then, and add 5-minute intervals if it is not yet ready.

Once the bread is ready, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for 25-30 minutes. After that time, prepare your topping.

Mix the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a little bowl. Brush the top of the loaf with butter, and sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture on top. Don’t be skimpy; sprinkle it liberally to cover the entire top of the loaf.

This part can be a bit messy, so I usually place a piece of parchment underneath.

Allow the bread to completely cool, and carefully remove it from the pan. In an airtight container or bag, this bread will last at room temperature for up to five days. Do not refrigerate the loaf, as it will become hard.

Got questions for the chef?

If you have questions as you prep your cooking game for the upcoming holiday season, Chef Santi is happy to help!

Email questions for him to


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here