Making carob liquor

The Algarve’s most famous firewater is, of course, Medronho. But for those who’d rather have something with a bit less kick, there are many other types of locally made liquors. Enjoy the Algarve is more than happy to try them all. This month, we try making carob liquor in Lugar da Renda, near Loulé.

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine December 2016

Pictures by Kyle Rodriguez


Not so long ago, Algarvians living in rural areas would start their day with a shot of homemade liquor. Many of them probably still do. Not Célia Arraiolos (50) though – she usually has a sip at night. “When I have friends over for dinner, afterwards, I put a bottle on the table.”

Like most good recipes, the best way to make liquor has been passed on in the family. Célia was taught by her mother (80). “Many of my childhood memories are of my mother making jams and liquor in our kitchen. Four years ago, I started asking her for the recipes; I’d like to keep them in the family.” The only recipe that doesn’t come from her mother, is the one for carob liquor. “My mum is from the Ribatejo and carobs are native to the Algarve,” Célia explains.

Apart from plums, “Neighbours sometimes give me their harvest”, the majority of the ingredients in Célia’s cooking and baking come from her own garden. “I don’t buy any fruit from the supermarket; I’d rather use what nature gives me,” she comments. And that’s quite a lot. Her backyard is full of trees; almond, fig, pomegranate, carob, olive and loquat. There’s even a very small Arbutus Unedos. Célia: “It’ll take at least another three years, but maybe then I can make my own Medronho!”

Although she’s actually a physical education teacher, Célia also has an extensive knowledge of gardening. After mentioning her newest addition “Physalis (Cape Gooseberry); it grows quickly and is great for jams”, she talks about the different harvesting seasons. Loquats are picked from April to July, plums April to August, figs May to August, pomegranates from October to January and although almonds keep all year, it’s best to pick them before the rains start, from September to October. Which jams and liquors are made, all depends on the season. For carob beans, harvesting time is actually July to October, so we’re a bit late.

There are still some alfarrobas hanging on the trees in Célia’s garden though. There’s no need to whack the branches with a stick, as sometimes is done by carob collectors; as soon as you touch the pods, they already fall down. “I sometimes wait for strong wind and then I just collect them off the ground,” Célia confesses. I try to gather the ones that have just fallen on the earth and within minutes, we both have both our hands full.

For our bottle of carob liquor, only 12 pods are needed. We break them into small pieces and toss those into a litre of water. A wrong one immediately gets spotted by Célia’s expert eyes – it must be one that I picked up from the ground. “Fresh ones snap with a crack, but if they’ve been lying on the ground in the rain for a few days, they get soft and bend instead of break,” she explains.

Then, we add a kilo of yellow sugar (yes, the Portuguese certainly like it sweet), put the pan on the fire and keep stirring until it boils. As the water slowly turns brown and doesn’t smell like carob at all anymore, we leave it to cool down before adding a litre of aguardente de uvas to it. This firewater has an ABV of 40% and is bought in the supermarket instead of made at home by Célia. “Ultimately, I do want to make my own. I’ve got some sugarcane growing in my garden, so I might use that to make aguardente. But first I’d need an alambique or some other distillery machine.”

At 15 euros a bottle, the spirit doesn’t come that cheap – money-wise you’d be better off just buying a bottle of Algarvian liquor in the shop. For Célia, however, the process of home-cooking is worth a lot as well: “I like making things by hand; I enjoy experimenting, tasting, and sharing what I’ve created myself with others so they can appreciate it too. Making your own liquor is not a case of making cheap liquor.”

It also isn’t something for people who are in a hurry; the mixture now needs to be left alone for 15 days so the liquid can absorb the flavour of the carob beans. This is actually quite fast: most fruits take a couple of months until the spirit has fully taken on the flavour. Plums, we learn, need 4 to 5 months. Seeing as Célia has already prepared another batch two weeks ago, we filter that one instead. This isn’t done with a standard sieve, but rather with a clean dishcloth so not even the tiniest carob pieces can get through.

Pouring the clear liquid in a bottle, Célia adds a finishing touch by decorating the glass. The result is a strong (the exact ABV percentage is unknown, but it’s certainly less strong than Medronho) and very sweet liquor. It doesn’t smell of carob beans, but the taste is slightly there. Turns out the process of making your own Algarvian liquor isn’t complicated at all; it just takes a lot of time. So start now and you’ll be OK with Christmas. Of course, Enjoy the Algarve is more than happy to taste the result. Cheers!


When to go?

This completely depends on what type of liquor you want to make. Best is to contact Célia beforehand and ask what’s in season.

All material is included. The minimum group size is two, whereas the maximum number of participants is eight (but if you ask nicely, it might be possible to organise a workshop for just one person or even for nine).

Want to go? Make sure to contact Célia well in advance via phone (+351 938 364 523) or email.


For whom?

Liquor lovers who want to try and make something different! Those with a sweet tooth will love it.

No experience is needed as the process is quite simple. Seeing as you’re working with a hot stove and alcohol, this workshop is suitable for adults only.

Celia speaks English and Portuguese. Apart from collecting the carob or fruits, this activity is indoors, so also suitable if it rains.


See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine December 2016

Posted in Food, This month we try.