Palmwine? Why not!
Written by: The Bridge on Saturday, July 26th, 2008
It seems you can get used to anything. If your palmwine has a little worm floating in it, just flick it out, or strain it before drinking. I have to admit, I haven’t forgotten Talitha’s dire warnings of “don’t drink the palmwine”, but now I say- you just got to know how to do these things! Let me give you a brief but somewhat complicated description of Palm trees. I say complicated because I’m not 100% sure I got all the facts straight and it sure took a lot of questions, imagination and time to figure out this much. Getting facts around here is something which takes a lot, and I mean a lot, of patience and persistence.
There are 3 trees you can get palmwine from: the palmwine tree, the palmfruit tree and the coconut tree. The first we’ll discuss is the palmwine tree, the palm tree which is not good for anything except palmwine. There are fewer of these trees around and they don’t look as nice as the regular palmfruit tree. They tend to grow near streams and rivers. Here is a picture of some palmwine trees. They have these nuts growing down from the top and they are not trimmed nicely so they look straggly and unkempt. They extract the wine while the tree is living and standing. The tapper will climb up and somehow make a little fire on top of the tree, attaching a big plastic jug, and getting the wine out that way. Once they will have extracted the wine, the tree will eventually die. They can get palmwine for about a month. Also, these nuts will only grow after the tree has been tapped, so to speak. I haven’t seen this happen; I only sometimes see a little curl of smoke rising from somewhere in the jungle. Then I know another tree is giving its life so the people can drink some palmwine.
Compare the palmwine trees to these good looking palmfruit trees. These trees are old already; let me guess, about 20 years, and have been trimmed regularly. Here is a picture of a young palm fruit tree that has not been trimmed nicely. The inner part of the leaves have been left on, simply because this tree is short enough yet so it can be climbed with a bamboo ladder, and therefore the owner hasn’t needed to cut the leaves flush with the trunk. I imagine the day will come when they will have to cut it so the trunk is smooth for climbing.
To get palmwine from the palmfruit tree, they first chop down the tree. These boys can chop down a big palm tree with nothing more than a machete. If I tried to do it, it would take me a month of Sundays… to say the least. Then they trim off the leaves growing out of the top. Then they leave the trunk lying there for three days and on the 3rd day you cut a precise, square hole where the leaves were, cutting it just so, not too low or too high. This takes someone older who has done it many times. Then you have a hole that fills with palmwine and you can get a few liters each morning and evening for about 2-3 weeks. Just fish out the wine and cover the hole so the flies don’t finish it. I find the wine is good and sweet if I drink it right out off the tree, strained of course. Right away the wine is like juice, no alcohol. But I wouldn’t dare drink it if it were older than a day because it does not agree with the white people’s system somehow. They tell me that in order to have alcohol, they must make a fire like they do with the palmwine tree. You can add any of numerous leaves, or you can boil it and infuse the leaves that way. This makes for a good tea. I’m always told palmwine is good for the eyes; who knows how true that is or isn’t!
Then of course, we have the third palm tree, the coconut tree. Interestingly enough they tell me it is possible to make palm wine out of this trunk too if you cut it down and apply the same method as with the palm fruit tree. It sure seems that God didn’t waste anything; it’s like there is always something more that can be done with one product. Of the coconut tree they say the taste of the wine is different, a lot sweeter. We asked why they don’t tap the trees, like we do our maple trees at home, instead of cutting them down. It seems that in some areas they do that. Maybe the idea just hasn’t reached this part of the country yet! It sure makes me shake my head whenever they cut down one of the beautiful palm fruit trees. Its not that they do it on a whim; they don’t cut them unless they have a reason. Like lately for example, management decided the shade these trees made wasn’t letting the grass grow and therefore caused erosion, so the boys cut about 8 of them! Down by the chicken barn they macheted about 6 palm fruit trees and near the fish pond they cut 2 palm fruit trees. One mango and also one large avocado tree in the middle of the Hof had to go. What we wouldn’t give to have such bountiful trees in our country!
(He said to them, “draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did now know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” John 2: 8-10 )