Saturday, March 29, 2008

Toe Jam Juice

What's the first thing you're told when visiting a new country? Don't drink the water! Good advice, but sometimes you get lost in the moment. I forgot that basic tenet of travel during a walk through a village near Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. But at least I lived to tell the tale.

Selling Banana WineWe were visiting a local beverage maker—what we would call a moonshiner in Missouri where I grew up. She said the process begins by making banana juice in a big hollowed-out tree trunk laid on its side like a canoe. The juice maker takes off his shoes and walks on the bananas like someone stomping grapes for wine.

The juice can be drunk as is, but most of it is poured into leaf-lined pits and allowed to ferment for a few days. The resulting banana wine is quite popular. The really good stuff, though, is the banana gin, which is made by distilling the wine in wood-fired stills made from 55-gallon drums and copper tubing. Some technology just can’t be improved.

After the short lecture, our hostess grandly offered samples of all three beverages. I’m a teetotaler, so I stuck with the banana juice, which was quite flavorful. A couple of my friends tried the stronger concoction and pronounced it delicious.

Quite honestly, it wasn’t until I was telling the tale later that I realized how we had broken the first rule of travel: drink only bottled beverages! I guess the banana-stomper responsible for my glass must have had very clean feet.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

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