A slight tingle, a flinty taste, verging on sour. What is this? A moment of confusion.
I am taken back to English pubs in the west country before urbanization and gastropubs hit, when there was bread and cheddar and scrumpy. Scrumpy, a local cider, alcoholic of course, actually very alcoholic sometimes, had that tingle that taste.
But I’m drinking tepache. So what’s tepache? It’s a Mexican drink. If you are a visitor, you might see it on the outskirts of towns, a wooden barrel with TEPACHE in wobbly red letters, under the awning of a little cart, or in a market as here, with the 30 cent offering in plastic bags and and the rather more expensive in plastic glasses.
The signs say “Tepache 100% natural de piña” or made from 100% natural pineapple. It comes from the signature barrels under the table. It’s been sweetened, I think with piloncillo, raw sugar. It’s tasty but a bit sweet for my taste.
Tepache is also commonly made at home. It’s not difficult and it’s actually a great trick for using up that mountain of trimmings and core that always result from preparing pineapple. You just take the lot (making sure of course that you washed the outside before trimming), put them in a glass container (plastic is not good for this), add water and wait four or five days.
This is day one. Day two sees bubbles, day three and four the jar looks increasingly murky, and perhaps even develops bits of mold on the top. Never fear, carry on, strain the liquid and throw away the pineapple.
What you have is this: a nice glass of unsweetened tepache.
Tingly, sour, refreshing I much prefer it to the sweetened version. And so reminiscent of scrumpy. But it seemed to me just coincidence–a Mexican pineapple drink and English cider–until I was pulling everything together for this post.
I went back to the original recipe that Dr. Ramiro González of Guadalajara gave me. Along with his note that the enzymes in tepache made it excellent for drinking with heavy food, he added, words to the effect that it could also be made with apple or quince peel, something I have never seen in a Mexican cook book.
And then I remembered the bottle of cider from the north of Spain that I buy in the wine store chain Europea occasionally when I am homesick for scrumpy at the ridiculous price of US$ 7 a bottle.
Bingo. there is the barrel. We’ll never know. Did the Spanish find an indigenous pineapple drink that they liked because it reminded them of cider?
Or did the northern Spanish cider drinkers begin making their drink in the New World, first with the familiar apple and quince that could be grown in the mountains of Central Mexico, then as an economical way of using all the pineapple brought up from the hot country on mules and hence very expensive.
Influence or convergence?
Anyway, tepache is great stuff.
And PS. If you leave it a bit longer, you have a nice mild pineapple vinegar.