Orujo and the Fire Drink Ritual
Galicia, in northwest Spain, produces probably the most famous distilled liqueur in the country: Orujo. It's a product of the pomace of the grape, much like grappa, and is usually between 37 and an eye-watering 45% alcohol by volume.
The origins of liqueurs and spirits in Spain actually date back to the Moors' presence in the Iberian Peninsula (8th to 15th century), as they brought the distilling techniques and machines to produce alcohol. But it is really since the 17th century that Galicians started to make Orujo in their farms. It's a source of great pride with family carefully guarding their own secret recipe. Today there are over 80 producers of Orujo within 'La Denominación Específica Orujo de Galicia,' formed in 1989.
Orujo is also made in other regions, such as Cantabria, where the monasteries of the Liébana Valley have been distilling Orujo since the Middle Ages. In fact, the main town of Liebana, Potes, celebrates the 'Fiesta del Orujo' every November. The event includes traditional music, an old style market, Orujo tastings and a contest where participants distil their liqueur in public!
Primarily used as a digestive, Orujo can also serve to make the popular and very traditional Galician drink called Queimada, in which bits of lemon peel, sugar and ground coffee are put into a clay pot. Then the Orujo is poured on top and the pot is set on fire until the flame turns blue.
The drink has become particularly popular in Spain due to the custom of reciting a spell when making it. Leading people to believe that the drink was invented during the time of the Celts in Galicia (proved to be untrue, mainly because as a distilled drink, the technology only came after the arrival of the Moors in Spain, though the origins of the ritual are still unknown). This traditional ritual is done to cast out demons and bad spirits through an incantation and a witch's brew made of Orujo.
Take note that Queimada is very popular during Samhain, the Celtic New Year's Eve and during the Summer Solstice on the 23rd of June. However, today it can be performed at parties, after family events, or in the dead of night…
So just imagine, everyone sitting in the dark, forming a circle around the pot, stirring, casting the spell as the alcohol begins to burn… When the spell eventually ends, a lid is placed over the flames, leaving a steaming hot drink that is poured into small clay cups and passed among friends.
The spell was written by Mariano Marcos Abalo, in the 1960s. Here is the translation:
"Owls, barn owls, toads and witches. Demons, goblins and devils, spirits of the misty vales. Crows, salamanders and midges, charms of the folk healer(less). Rotten pierced canes, home of worms and vermin. Wisps of the Holy Company, evil eye, black witchcraft, scent of the dead, thunder and lightning. Howl of the dog, omen of death, maws of the satyr and foot of the rabbit. Sinful tongue of the bad woman married to an old man. Satan and Beelzebub's Inferno, fire of the burning corpses, mutilated bodies of the indecent ones, farts of the asses of doom, bellow of the enraged sea. Useless belly of the unmarried woman, speech of the cats in heat, dirty turf of the wicked born goat. With this bellows I will pump the flames of this fire which looks like that from Hell, and witches will flee, straddling their brooms, going to bathe in the beach of the thick sands. Hear! Hear the roars of those that cannot stop burning in the firewater, becoming so purified. And when this beverage goes down our throats, we will get free of the evil of our soul and of any charm. Forces of air, earth, sea and fire, to you I make this call: if it's true that you have more power than people, here and now, make the spirits of the friends who are outside, take part with us in this Queimada."
Make your Queimada at home
Prep time: 2 minutes | Cooking time: 10 minutes | Total time: 12 minutes | Makes 8 servings
1 litre of orujo (substitute a grape based spirit if Orujo is not available)
2/3 cup of granulated sugar
1 lemon rind cut into strips
1/4 cup of whole coffee bean
Due to the nature of Queimada, please make sure you prepare it only outside and away from anything that may catch fire. Take a large clay pot, or a fireproof bowl, and a long wooden spoon to stir the brew while reciting the spell:
Place the clay pot on a fireproof surface
Pour 4 tbsp Orujo and 1 tbsp sugar into a small glass and stir to dissolve sugar, then set aside.
Pour the rest of the Orujo and remaining sugar into the clay bowl and stir.
Add the lemon peel and coffee beans and stir again.
Pour the Orujo and sugar mixture from the glass into a ladle and light it on fire. Carefully move the ladle very close to the clay pot until the Orujo mixture in the pot catches fire.
Stir frequently until the flames turn blue.
Slide the lid over the pot to put out the flames.