Introduction: Artisanal Pruno (Prison Wine)

Food artistry was once solely the work of chefs stationed behind the burners and ovens of Michelin-rated restaurants in major metropolitan areas. As we grew more aware of what we put in our bodies, we started to eat better. Dining would no longer merely a means to sustain ourselves. It became an experience meant to be savored and our collective consciousness skewed towards sustainable, organic, and responsibly grown, raised, and farmed food. At a price, of course. As consumers, we would bear the brunt of the cost burden.

The product of a newly minted upper middle class, foodie culture spawned a new breed of overpriced food. Cafes and restaurants, with their refined menus, had a ripe market of suckers willing to pay through the nose simply to flaunt their newfound knowledge and wealth. Bread, a staple of diets of both the rich and the poor, became toast that would sell for $4 a slice. Salads, essentially greens that one could grow in a backyard, $15. Ice cream, $5 a scoop... after a 20 minute wait in line. What's next? How much are people willing to overpay for the privilege of doing so?

For those unfamiliar with pruno, a little history lesson: since time immemorial, alcohol has served as the cause of and solution to all of our problems. A small percentage of people, for one reason or another, have made enough poor decisions that they now spend their days in prison. Does being behind bars keep them from getting drunk? Of course not! It's said that stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage; using fruit and ingredients from the commissary, our nation's inmates devised a way to booze themselves up to pass the time. Some call their concoction "prison wine." Some call it pruno.

Using exotic fruit and organic ingredients to cater to their discerning palates: Artisanal Pruno.

Disclaimer: PRUNO CAN KILL YOU. Before embarking on the adventure of fermenting fruit to make hooch, please be aware that the use of certain ingredients can make you seriously ill and/or result in death.

Step 1: What You'll Need

Pruno's basic ingredients are fruit (traditionally oranges), sugar, some kind of yeasty starch, and water. Inmates have been known to use candy, fruit cocktail, packets of ketchup, moldy bread... we aren't going to be using any of that. We'll be using only the finest ingredients.

Organic Fruit - 7 oranges, 1 each of mango, papaya, pineapple, dragonfruit. If you have an ethnic or hipster market at your disposal, be sure to check there. If it's grossly overpriced, definitely use it. Oranges should be the base to remain true to the pruno name, but feel free to add whatever else you have available. The overall volume should be half oranges, half everything else. Do not use potatoes or any root vegetables/fruits - I've heard botulism isn't very fun.
Yeast - approx. 1 cup. bread or 1 packet of yeast. I chose to use whole wheat levain from a local bakery (baked fresh that morning in a wood-fired brick oven).
Sugar - 3/4 cup. Organic unrefined, unbleached, whole cane sugar.
Ketchup - 1/3 cup. Nothing says flavor like America's favorite condiment! Organic ketchup: it came in a glass bottle so you know it's fancy.
Water - 2 cups. Straight from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. You can also ask your local water sommelier for a water that best suites your tastes.

jar, large
freezer storage bag, large
pots, large and not-quite-as-large
measuring cups
long handled spoon
self loathing
cutting board
fruit knife

This recipe will yield approximately 5 cups of finished, drinkable* pruno.

*While it's technically drinkable, you might not actually want to.

Step 2: Prepare the Fruit

Peel and cut up the fruit into small chunks, taking care to remove any semblance of skin or rind. We wouldn't want any of the pesky healthy parts of the fruit - and the accompanying antioxidants and fiber - making their way into our hooch.

The entirety of your fruit chunks should mostly fill a freezer storage bag, as pictured.

Step 3: Mash the Fruit

With all of the fruit chunks in the bag, mash all of it into a homogenous mixture. Harder fruits, like pineapple, will require the use of a food processor or blender. Blend it separately and add it to the bag prior to mashing it into a fruity goop.

Using your hands, knead the lumps within like you would bread dough; if there's enough space in the bag, a rolling pin would also work.

Step 4: Sterilizing the Solution

Since we're making our pruno in a presumably clean kitchen and not within the confines of the clink, we can afford some luxuries that our inmate friends can't - namely, cooking our mash to eliminate (some of) the bacteria. While this isn't going to make the food completely safe and sterile (what's the fun in that?), it'll at least provide peace of mind later as you ingest what is essentially rotten fruit juice.

With the two pots, you'll be creating a double-boiler; in the outer pot, fill it with 3-4 inches of water with the inner pot already placed within, and in the inner pot, enough water to cover most of the bag of fruit. When the water in the outer pot reaches a rolling boil, reduce the heat to medium and place the bag o' fruit in the inner pot and let it sit for 15 minutes. The bag shouldn't melt, but you can double bag it just to be on the safe side (unlike some other instances where double bagging is not only inadvisable, but downright unsafe).

Remove the bag from the water and let it cool to room temperature. If you're the impatient type, an ice bath for 10 or so minutes will also do the trick.

Step 5: Science!

To turn our fruit mash into booze, we need it to ferment. Without getting into the science of it, fermentation converts carbohydrates into alcohol. We'll be providing our little yeast friends with a bunch of food so they'll reciprocate with boozy goodness.

Dump the contents of the now-cooled bag into your jar, followed by the sugar, ketchup, water, and bread (or yeast). Give it a good stir; everything should blend together into a foul smelling mash that very closely resembles the vomit from the first time you drank in that park on that one night, both appearance and smell-wise.

Attach plastic cling wrap to the top and secure it with a large, thick rubber band and place the lid on top. DO NOT tighten it - doing so will create a rotting fruit bomb and presumably - with enough pressure - it'll explode and cover everything around it in a putrid mess of pulp.

Step 6: Hide the Hooch

Hide your jar away somewhere warm(ish) and dark where it'll remain undisturbed. Closets and cupboards and the like should do nicely.

It will sit here for roughly a week while the yeast works its magic on the abundance of food we've provided it.

Step 7: Burp and Bathe

As the yeast feasts away on everything we've provided it, it'll create carbon dioxide as a byproduct of the fermentation process. At least once a day, bleed the gas from the jar by removing the plastic wrap.

Optional: add more sugar. Every couple days, I added a heaping tablespoon of sugar.

Now would also be a good time to stir the contents of the jar. Replace the plastic wrap.

Warmth speeds up the fermentation process so we'll be heating up the mixture, but not so much that it kills the yeast. In your large pot, heat 3-4 cups of water; if the water is too hot to comfortably immerse your hand, let it cool down to around 85 degrees. Let it sit in its bath for 15-20 minutes and return the jar to its hiding place.

Repeat this process every day for the next 7-10 days.

Step 8: Strain the Mash

Using a strainer, separate the drinkable hooch from the mash.

Metal will suffice but cloth works better (and stays true to the traditional method of pruno brewing, since inmates have to make do with shirts, bedsheets, etc) since less of the pulp makes it through to the final product. I used a jelly strainer.

Dumping the entirety of the mash in at once is inadvisable - using cloth, I had to spoon and shift the contents around quite frequently to keep it from getting clogged - transfer your large jar into a smaller one and strain it in batches.

Step 9: Chill

At room temperature, this stuff is barely drinkable.

It tastes just as bad as it looks; if you've ever had the displeasure of vomiting while sick, out with a bout of food poisoning, or maybe after a few too many drinks... that is what pruno tastes like.

Much like beer, our fine wine tastes much better chilled. Place the strained jar of pruno in a refrigerator for at least a few hours.

Step 10: The Taste Test...

In the week or so that the fruit had been fermenting, you may have had plenty of time.

You've done a lot of thinking.

The little voice in your head is telling you maybe drinking fruit juice that has been festering in the dark for 7-10 agonizingly long days isn't such a good idea. But we know nothing numbs the pain of bad decision making like... more bad decisions.

Pour into the beverage serving receptacle of your choice and serve to your friends, family, coworkers, or cellmates.

Just in case the photos above don't convey the point, a few thoughts from those who tried it:

"It's tart... and boozy. It's not that bad. Let me try some more."
"It tastes like puke."
"Bad decisions are one thing. This is just a Poor. Life. Decision."
"Oh dear god what did I just put in my mouth?"

And there you have it, the latest addition to the artisanal food craze: Pruno.