Fruit of the south: wild calafate wine

Plant of Patagonia

Fruit of the south, calafate, the plant of Patagonia

Few plants, and less food-plants, are to be found in Patagonia. The sole trees are stunted nothofagus, stooped in wind-bent postures permanently. There’s a fungus of the gall type that’s edible, the digüeñe, but when cooked it tends towards unappealing slime. There must have been little on which the Yaghan/Yamana Indians could survive. That is, unless it was fruiting season for the small thorn-ridden shrub called calafate. In the summer these purple berries appear in plenty.

Thanks to these facts, the plant’s now considered a symbol of Patagonia. There’s a town in Argentina that takes its name from the calafate; there’s the Austral brewery with their excellent calafate ale; I was even offered a calafate cigarette the other day. You’re fated to return to Patagonia, according to local mythology (and to the local tourist industry), after one single taste of the calafate. I can confirm that I’m back for the second time, after scoffing lots of calafate last time. So yeah, you know, conclusive.

Wild calafate wine

Berries for wild calafate wine

Well, then, what to do with the fruit of the calafate? Of course, it can be eaten as it is, for besides its slight sharpness it has a sweetness also. Rather pleasant to pick on hikes, staining the mouth with bluish-reddish juice. But much spitting out of the numerous seeds is necessary, a problem in terms of putting whole berries in a recipe. I planned homemade jam from calafate, having had some from a friend recently.

Gean said, ‘What about calafate wine?’

I brightened, for I’m fond of wine, particularly wine that’s free.

He said, ‘It takes a year or two.’

‘Ohhh, right.’

Yet off we went, despite this disappointing thought, to find fruit for our calafate wine. Most unusually it was a comfortably sunny day, and we drove along the harbour’s inlets in our borrowed outboard dinghy, stopping if we spotted patches of bushes on the shore. But the fruit here were small in size, and others had taken most already. So we crossed from the inlets at the back of the harbour to the headland at the entrance, strolling the cliffs in the strong breeze beneath the dramatic cloud-formations of the Beagle. There were cattle, and where there are cattle there are calafate. (I’m sharing our secret with you.)

Gean gathering berries on a Patagonian shore

With the lamentable local internet’s assistance, and some limited previous experience, we then devised this formula. As to whether it works, we’ll tell you in a year, I suppose.

Our simple wine recipe

Ingredients

  • 2.5 kg calafate
  • 1.75 kg sugar
  • 15 g (1.5 sachets) dried yeast
  • 5 litres water
  • Optional lemon and apple

Equipment

  • Large pan/kettle
  • Large colander
  • Metal mashers and stirrers
  • Lidded buckets
  • Piece of pipe

Procedure

  • Scald all of the equipment and wash the calafate. Boil 2.5 litres of the water. Mash the calafate (easier in small quantities). Add the water.
  • We included a lemon’s juice together with a chopped apple, as substitutes for citric acid and pectic enzyme. In Puerto Williams it’s hard to find a lemon and an apple; I doubt anybody’s stocking pectic enzyme. The liquid seemed to acquire a slightly apple-ish taste, and we learnt that the pectin in apple’s not pectic enzyme. We removed the apple.
  • Soak in a lidded bucket for 48 hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Boil the other 2.5 litres of the water, dissolving the sugar in this water. Add most of it to the berry mixture. Start the yeast with a cupful cooled to a warm temperature. Add the yeast to the mixture.
  • We constructed an airlock for the bucket by puncturing the lid and passing through a pipe, using silicon to seal around this hole, and submerging the end of the pipe.
  • Leave like this for a week more, stirring occasionally.
  • Strain out solids and seal the mixture until it ceases to bubble (a month or two).
  • Leave in bottles for at least six months more.

 

 

 

The results will be complete at about the time of our departing Patagonia; perhaps we’ll raise a glass of calafate wine as we sail away, and so ensure that we return some day.

Wild calafate on a shore in Chile

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