Saturday, January 17, 2015

Fire Water.

When André is not too busy pruning olive trees he likes to wear Esquilo scarves. This week I finished another scarf which you can find for sale in the store.

A few months ago we started picking Irish Strawberries (Arbutus Unedo or Tree Strawberry, Medronho in Portuguese), a very common fruit here in the Serra da Malcata and most of Portugal. A very expensive and sought after drink is made from this fruit, called Medronho. It is what we call a fire water, a spirit distilled from the fermented fruit that has an exaggerated percentage of alcohol, somewhere between 20 and 80%. After we picked the fruit, which must be ripe, we placed it in a large container and mashed and stirred it over several days and then covered it and kinda forgot about it for a few months. Meanwhile we started on the Olive campaign and had little time for anything else. That is, until last week. I organized for a lady from town, Maria Rosa, to come and help us distill the fruit mush. This lady had distilled Medronho before, a task she learned from her parents such a long time ago that she does not even really remember when. Distilling this fruit is very particular and much different from distilling aguardente made from the left overs of grapes from the wine making process, for example. 

The Still belonged to André´s granddad and is a piece of art, made from copper with brass handles. To seal the Alembic a paste is made from flour, ash and water. This paste is called "massa infernal", Infernal dough. We decided to distill using a wood fire as opposed to using gas, it required a little more attention and control from our part to make sure the fire was not too strong or too weak. But we felt this just made the experience more genuine and I felt like a true alchemist, who knows perhaps even channeled the spirit of Jabir Ibn Hayyan. Needless to say it was a huge success. The Aguardente is smooth and fragrant and no less stronger yet softer than its grape relative. And not only are we happy with our efforts but also thrilled that this task managed to revive the enthusiasm of some people in town to do the same next year but also recovered lost memories in some of making the same powerful spirit decades ago.

Somewhere between all this I managed to make another scarf and help a friend Alice make some blood sausages. And then the cold really finally arrived. This tuesday it might snow. But now we can drink our firewater by the fire and really warm up on the outside and on the inside. 

Meanwhile on the side, I found some interesting reading material relating to a Sir Richard Hawkins (an English seaman, probably a pirate), who had a Still on board his ship, that he may have abandoned in Brazil around 1590 (as you do), that was used to distill salt water to be made drinkable. Pretty impressive. The Brazilians of course used it to distill sugar cane and to make Cachaça. So I guess next time we drink a Caipirinha we must salute Hawkins and Hayyan alike! HAW HAY!

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