Let's hear it for a strong South African tradition!

Recently I have been exposed to another part of South Africa's great cultural heritage. It's called mampoer, and it's much like the alcoholic equivalent of a hand granade, coated with a thin layer of sugar.

The origins of mampoer are somewhat lost in the mists of time. Just about everyone claims to be the inventor of mampoer, from white settlers to descendants of the first peoples lving on the continent. Personally I suspect that mampoer was mostly discovered by, or at least thanks to, elephants. When the fruit of the marula tree, which is indigenous to Southern Africa, ripens, it quickly starts to ferment. The sweet odor given off by the fermenting fruit attracts elephants (and also baboons) from miles downwind. They feast on the fruits and occasionally eat so many of them that they become intoxicated, especially the baboons. (It takes a lot to intoxicate a three ton elephant.)

This was not lost on the people of Southern Africa, who used the spontaneous fermentation of various fruits to brew various mildly alcoholic drinks.  Then the white settlers moved in, armed with a knowledge of distilling and a religion involving a deity who changed water into wine and not the other way around. It was about then that mampoer was born. The principle is simple: you take a large vat, fill it up with fruit, mash it up, and leave it for two weeks or so (judging how long it should be left to bubble is a bit of an art - too short and you don't get much alcohol; too long and it all goes bad). The fruit will ferment spontaneously, and all you then have to do is distill it. The result is a very fruity and very potent brandy, known as mampoer in Transvaal and as witblits ("white lightning") in the Cape.

Mampoer is produced and distributed somewhat discreetly, so as not to upset John Law, and comes in many different varieties. The variation is mostly due to the difference in fruits from one season to the next and one area to the next, as well as the climate during growth and fermentation, not to mention regional influences on the spontaneous fermentation itself. In short, no two batches of mampoer are ever alike - except by sheer coincidence. It also comes in a variety of strengths, typically from 50 to 65% or so, but occasionally even stronger - much  stronger. (The varieties stronger than 50% are not really meant, or recommended, for imbibing undilutedly!)

So. I have obtained, as part of a deal I will not discuss, from a source I shall not mention, a few free bottles of 50% Fig and Mulberry mampoer. And I can report, ehm, I mean, I have been told, that it puts you to sleep very nicely. :-)

More than anything else, though, I wish I could have let my grandfather taste it. He's spent most of his life as a master distiller of the well-known Dutch gin (properly known as Genever or Jenever) and he would have found it very interesting indeed.

So.. here's to you, grandpa. Cheers!


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