Its not often I see one of my recipes go horribly wrong, not even something less easily controllable such as a ferment. It isn’t as if I’m some form of insanely perfect cook, but rather careful recipe testing and preparation.
Yet once in a while, something does go horribly, disgustingly, putridly wrong. The beautiful result of this horror, is the opportunity to troubleshoot what occurred to take a batch of tepache from a fragrant tropical infusion, to sewer water topped with an airy white cloud of mold four days into the ferment.
For a refresher, take a look at the original tepache recipe, posted last year.
The pineapple: An average sized (roughly 3 pounds) ripe pineapple, with no green left on the peel, yet not so ripe as to feel soft when squeezed or to have developed white mold on the peel. The pineapple is washed and scrubbed within an inch of its life before cutting. Problems: none.
The sugar and spices: Just regular brown sugar and spices. No guess work there. Problems: none.
The fermenting vessel: Tradition dictates fermenting vessels should be of glazed clay or glass, with food grade plastic being a modern acceptable variation. Many folks dedicated to fermenting oppose the use metal containers, as the vessel needs to be non-reactive, meaning aluminum, copper, and cheap stainless steal are out. But guess what material is used to ferment beer by breweries both big and small? High quality stainless steel, like the kind used for this batch. Problems: none.
Length of fermentation: My typical length of fermentation for tepache is 6 to 7 days. I have in some instances let it sit for a few days longer (on accident), with the only result being a slightly boozier drink. I would never complain about this. A longer ferment, of several weeks, or months, would yield pineapple vinegar, though the taste is not always quite right. At day 4, when this particular batch when wrong, the flavor and slight fizziness of the drink are not quite developed enough, but the taste is usually in no way unpleasant. Problems: none.
Temperature: A balmy and consistent 68 to 70º. Colder temperatures would slow down the fermentation, possibly killing it if temperatures dip too low. As can be guessed, warmer temperatures would speed up the process. Problems: still none.
The water on day 1: The initial ferment was, as always, with bottled distilled water. Much like using a clean pineapple at right stage of ripeness, and a clean non-reactive fermentation vessel, using purified water, containing nothing more than water, eliminates potential contamination in the process. Problems: none.
The water on day 3: My recipe requires a syrup to be added to the ferment at day 3, boosting the the activity of the naturally occurring yeast in the pineapple. As usual, when making a simple syrup, I started with tap water. Problem: BINGO!
Saratoga Springs, New York, is famous for two things: horse racing and well, springs. Mineral heavy, rotten egg smelling springs. Even with some filtration, the tap water in the area carries a heavy mineral content. Great for baths, not great for fermentation.
It must have been amateur hour that day.