Țuică (zoo-EEK-u) is a Romanian spirit made from plums. If you visit a household in rural Romania, you will inevitably be offered țuică in a small glass. It will most likely have been made by your host, a relative or a neighbor. You will be pressed and pressed to try a sip until you acquiesce and your host proudly toasts ‘Noroc!‘ You hesitantly raise your shot glass to your lips. Nose hairs bristle at the evaporating alcohol before your mouth has even reached the cup. Your host awaits a response to this local, traditional craft liquor that could sterilize a wound. Romanians count it a privilege and honor to share their bountiful harvest of plums (in the form of țuică) with guests.
Our neighbors produce at least 100 liters of țuică a year. Fifty odd years ago they cobbled together a still, which is still in use today (no pun intended). A few weeks ago they invited me over to observe the weeklong process – it takes a week to distill all the batches of fermented juice when it’s at its prime. Clay is used to seal the barrel, ensuring all the evaporating liquid escapes only through the pipe, where it cools, condenses, and flows in a steady stream into a bucket. It’s quite the science project. Finally, the clear liquid cascades over fresh leaves resting on a strip of fabric, giving it a slight green hue once bottled in used plastic water bottles that have been saved throughout the year.
Since arriving several months ago, we have been gifted with no less than eight bottles of a variety of homemade wines and other adult beverages, all bestowed by gracious Romanians who want us to equally delight in the fruits of their hard manual labor that begins in the spring with the cultivation of the fruit trees and ends late fall, when the fruit is in the bottle. Now, in December, the trees are bare, just skeletons in the fog. They, and our neighbors, are taking a hard earned rest before the cycle of sowing, planting, cultivating, reaping, gathering and brewing begins again. I’m fairly certain they have enough of their preferred beverage to last until this time next year.