Saturday, February 09, 2013

Cabanaconde: Making Chicha

Previous posts on Cabanaconde and maíz cabanita: first, second, third, fourth, fifth

An absolutely vital ingredient in the agricultural cycle is chicha, the maize beer that is drunk before, during and after work in the chacras, especially during large collective efforts such as the solay/planting.

Here's a description of how it is produced. Note that this refers only to chicha made in Cabanaconde. In other parts of  Peru, it may be done differently and even use different ingredients.

The principal ingredient is yellow maize. First, the grains are taken off the cob and put to soak for two days in a bucket. Then, the water is drained off with a sieve and the kernels are put in plastic bags for seven days until they begin to sprout. During this time they have to be kept in a warm place. Little holes are made in the bags to allow some air out.

After seven days, the sprouted kernels are taken out of the bags and left to dry. This is now wiñapo, which will be used to make the chicha.

The wiñapo is dried for three days. Then it is ground up in a mill or with a mortar and pestle. Water is put on to boil in a big pot, ideally using a wood fire. The wiñapo can be added directly or soaked separately in a bucket before being added. It is boiled for half an hour to an hour.

The liquid is then strained through a white tablecloth held between two people. The sediment is captured by the cloth and the liquid passed to another container. It is left to cool overnight. The next day begins the process of decanting the liquid, usually into ceramic pots called chombas. The upper part of the liquid is clear and yellowy and is called chuyan. The lower, thicker part is called pipo.

The chicha is left to ferment for three to four more days, according to taste, and how drunk you want to make the people who are working with you.

Each litre of chicha requires about 2 kilos of dry grain*. The more maize is included, the tastier the chicha. During the preparation, some people will add fruit juice or even sugar. This can make the chicha more flavoursome, and it certainly increases the alcohol content. A froth on the surface of the liquid generally indicates a more potent batch of chicha.

I drank large quantities of chicha while working in the fields in Cabanaconde. If you work during planting, you will be given a large 500ml beer glass of chicha every 20 or 30 minutes,starting around 8:00 am with breakfast, and continuing until it's all gone (usually around sunset). Some people warn you to be careful with it, and there does seem to be the occasional adverse reaction - I saw several people become extremely drunk or rather unwell in the chacra, though these were mostly women who arrived around midday after spending the morning drinking while sitting around cooking. Drunk as part of a working rthythm, I found it to be pleasant and refreshing. It both quenched my thirst and, as the day wore on, gradually produced a warm, convivial feeling while erasing pain and tiredness (although the coca leaves we chewed might have had something to do with that too).

The only obvious drawback of chicha is that it seems to be an anti-diuretic and can make you bloated. During my first solay, I noticed about mid-afternoon that I had drunken significant quantites of liquid but hadn't felt a need to pee for more than two hours, and my stomach was gradually becoming more and more distended. Fortunately, there's a straightforward solution. Also served in the chacra is jampi, a homemade high-proof liquor. A couple of thimblefuls of this will generally restore one's natural functions.

*This is from only one source, but referring to discussion in a previous post, you can see that at market rates this equates to about S/.8 ($4 NZD) per litre, just for the principal ingredient.