Friday, November 27, 2009

Chicha, post #1: A Slippery Slope

There's a part of each of us that watches what we do from a bit of a distance and, one hopes, keeps us from doing as many stupid things as we otherwise might. [Chew, chew, chew.] As it turns out, I'm highly aware of this part within me, [ptui!] and I enjoy the way it alerts me to the absurd things that occur around me, all day every day. [Chew, chew, chew.]

When my wife suggested I have a food blog, this handy part of my mind piped-up instantly. It said, "Careful, Joelle! You're creating a monnnnnsterrrrrr!" [ptui.] It was right; this food blog thing has put me on a slippery slope. In fact, even as I write these words, [chewchewchew] my wife and kid are convinced that I've gone completely over the edge.

I'm making Chicha, you see. It's other, rather less seductive, name is 'Chewed Corn Beer.' [ptui.]

a jar of unsuspecting soaked corn

Last night, I soaked 2 cups of corn in the fridge. This morning, while [chew chew chew] cooking for our Thanksgiving meal, I drained the corn, put it in a saucepan with 2 quarts of water, and went outside with a sifter and a bowl. I sifted some wood ash from my smoker into the bowl, returned to the kitchen and added 1/2 cup of ash to the pan and set it to boil. This is when my family began to get suspicious. [ptui!] Three hours later, I drained and rinsed the kernels -- now officially posole -- and put 'em in a jar to cool.

mmmmm ... corn-ash stew

finished posole prior to rinsing

Now dinner is over and the dishes are done. I'm happily [chew chew chew] performing the next step toward Chicha: Making the muko. My wife and daughter are officially grossed-out and want me to know it.

Allow me to explain something about turning grain [ptui.] into alcohol. Most people understand that yeast works its magic by eating simple sugars and pooping out delicious boozy goodness. But, yeast can't eat the complex carbohydrates found in grain; as brewers, we have to help them out by converting those starches into simple sugars. This is why we malt (i.e., sprout) barley for beer and inoculate steamed rice with koji fungus spores for sake. (Vintners, mead- and cider-makers don't face this starch conversion problem, by the way, as their raw ingredients are already sugary.)

[chew... chew... chew.]

So, how can a would-be brewer in Central America, say, 1000 years ago, break-down the starches in their locally-available supply of corn? Since it's cooked into posole, it won't sprout, therefore malting is out. What to do... what to do... [ptui!]

OK, you get it. It's called Chewed Corn Beer because we use our own saliva to provide the enzymes necessary to convert the starches to sugars. An elegant solution! Brilliant! (Hey, why is everyone leaving...)

So here I am, typing my blog as I chew, chew, chew spoonfuls of posole just enough to turn it into a firm, chunky glob. Then I spit that glob, ptui, onto a baking sheet and take another spoonful. With each spit, my daughter looks up from her book with an expression of complete disgust and something else -- could it be concern? My wife is reacting to this endeavor as though it represents a troubling family secret, never to be shared. [chew, chew, chew.] They both vigorously decline my repeated offers to share the chewing fun.

chew on this!

mmm, mmm, muko!

As for me, I'm intrigued by the adventure of it all, amused by the strong reaction I'm getting from my loved ones and really, truly tired of chewing corn.

To be continued... [ptui!]

.. but in the meantime, check out Wild Fermentations by Sandor Ellix Katz at the library and look at Katz's website for more info, including how-to directions for making awesome sauerkraut.


  1. HA! Brilliant. Extra points for reviving antiquated food preparation folkways!