Sunday, December 16, 2012

More Moonshine - Mocororó

Caju (cashew) fruit
Back in 2010, Flavors of Brazil published a post about a Brazilian drink called aluá, a lightly acoholic concoction made from pinapple peelings, sugar and water. (There's also a version made with soaked dried corn and recipes for both can be found here.) At the time we noted that aluá, which has a very long history, is particularly associated with tradional festivals - the festas juninas of Brazil's northeast, and the feasts that play an integral part in the ceremonies of the Bahian afro-brazilian religion Candomblé.

The folk traditions of northeastern Brazil also include another fruit-based alcoholic beverage, and this one is associated with specific folk rituals as well. The drink is called  mocororó, and drinking it is an important part of a folk dance in that region of the country called torém.

Both the drink, mocororó, and the dance, torém, have been traced back to pre-Columbian indigenous rituals, and both to this day carry connotations of Brazil's first inhabitants. Both are found throughout the northeastern part of Brazil, but are most closely associated to the traditions of the state of Ceará, where Flavors of Brazil is based.

Almost universally, primitive humankind has discovered ways to turn the sugars in fruit drinks into alcohol, and to imbibe the result for ritualistic use or purely for pleasure. Sweet drinks, left in the open air for a few days, become inbued with natural fermenting agents, primarily yeasts, and these agents transform the sugar in the drink into alcohol. What was once fruit juice becomes an alcoholic drink.

Humankind has long since learned how to help this natural process on its way, both by the artificial introduction of fermenting agents, and by the controlling the temperature of the drink so that it remains at a temperature conducive to fermentation. In the production of mocororó, Brazilian Amerindians left the introduction of fermenting agents to nature, but did lend a helping hand once fermentation had begun.

Mocororó is made from juice pressed from the caju fruit (the same fruit which gives us cashew nuts). The juice is left in the open air until fermentation starts, and then it is put into clay or glass containers. At this point, a very clever technique is used to enhance the fermentation process. The containers are buried in hot sand (which is easy to find along the coast and on riverbanks of Ceará) for up to six months. The sand ensures a perfect and consistent temperature for fermentation (and presumably also makes it less easy to "sample" the product before it's ready). After some time, the mocororó is dug up by which time it has quite an alcoholic punch.

 Mocororó is traditionally served in indigenous festivals and ceremonies in which the torém is danced. The Brazilian National Central of Folklore and Popular Culture describes the torém this way:
Group dance with participants of both sexes, who form themselves into a circle with a soloist in the center. It is a ritual dance of indigenous origin, whose participants imitate animals - like the jump of the mullet fish, the fight of raccoons, the song of the parakeet, the lunge of a snake. Shaking an aguiam, a type of maraca, the soloist advances and retreats, quivers, jumps and stamps his feet, often imitating the snake or the lizard, demonstrating his dexterity and flexibility. The other dancers mark the beat by stamping their feet and moving around the circle in a counter-clockwise direction. The music is sung by the soloist and repeated by the chorus of the other dancers. Mocororó is distributed during the dance  Prevalent in the state of Ceará, the torém is danced during the caju harvest season, on social occassions and when indigenous groups meet other tribes.

The drink has stayed close to its origins and there is no commercial production of mocororó in Brazil. As a result, Flavors of Brazil cannot comment on either its flavor nor its alcoholic strength. But we have our eye out for it, and should we ever come across any, we'll report back soon there after (as soon as we recover, that is).

Translation and adaptation of Portuguese text by Flavors of Brazil.

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