Prison Winemaking: Mike Carona Edition

foam from wine fermenting
Flickr user quevedoports


This week's recipe goes out to disgraced ex-Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona, who began serving a five-and-half-year prison sentence yesterday in the minimum-security federal pen in Littleton, Colorado. Since prison will present Carona so much time and so few outlets for cooking, here's something to try once he unpacks the bags and sorts out the sock drawer.

Sure, it's illegal to brew alcohol in prison. But when has “illegal” stopped Carona before?

It's easy to brew alcohol, Mike. Just fill an open container with a sweet liquid such as apple or orange juice, leave it in a warm place near an open window for a week, and voila! Hooch. Wild yeast spores in the air will find their way into the juice, and nature will have its way with it, much like you had with the public's trust.

Archaeologists believe spontaneous fermentation was employed by the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians who first discovered brewing. Vessels with bread scraps were filled with water, and the mash began to ferment. If the ancient Egyptians can brew with nothing more than a clay pot and some coarse bread, so can you.

For everyone else reading along: Uncontrolled fermentation can produce unpredictable and dangerous results if unwanted bacteria colonies set up camp in your brew before the desirable yeasts do. We're talking about severe gastric distress or death, so don't try this at home, underage kids.

Since spontaneous fermentation is sketchy, and smuggling commercial yeast into prison is forbidden, it's better if you surreptitiously cultivate your own culture of wild yeast and use it for a more reliable fermentation. Chef Nancy Silverton offers a method to start a wild yeast culture in her book Breads From the La Brea Bakery. Take fresh grapes (organic, if possible), crush them coarsely into a jar, and the natural yeast on the grape skin will start to ferment the sweet juice. Surely you can get organic grapes in Club Fed?

Maybe I'm overestimating the comfort level you'll enjoy in the Littleton lockup, Mike. If it turns out that conditions resemble the harsh Central Jail you used to run in Santa Ana, then you might want to follow the “prison rules” recipes outlined by Steve, one of the first and funniest food bloggers, of The Sneeze. Crazy bastard that he is, Steve actually made two batches of pruno and blogged it.

Steve quotes Jim Hogshire's book You Are Going to Prison

Prison hooch can be made in your cell toilet (as long as you don't mind using other people's toilets or finding some other solution), or more often, in plastic trash bags. The recipe is simple: make a strong bag by double or triple-bagging some plastic trash bags and knotting the bottoms. Into this, pour warm water, some fruit or fruit juice, raisins or tomatoes, yeast, and as much sugar as you can get ahold of (or powdered drink mix). Now tie off the top of the bag, letting a tube of some kind protrude so the thing won't explode while it gives off carbon
dioxide. Now hide the bag somewhere and wait at least three days. A
week is enough.

Here's another method using a jug and a rubber balloon as an airlock, which lets out the carbon dioxide safely without letting in the unwanted microflora. Filter the brew through a sock, and enjoy.

Making alcohol is easy. Making tasty alcohol is not. Let us know how your pruno works out, inmate # 45335-112.Who knows? If you get good over the next five years, you might have a new career upon your release. That small blot of a felony conviction when you approach the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control board? Nothing a little bribery can't fix, Mike. Better luck on that next time.

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