HAVANA TIMES — To a foreigner who pays Cuba’s east-laying provinces a visit, the word “pru” means absolutely nothing – but only until a hospitable local offers them a glass of this unique fermented beverage which has become part of the island’s traditions.
Down here, where the days are hotter, people make a habit of tempering the stifling temperatures with the foamy and delicious elixir, whose origins take us back to the days of Haitian immigration following that country’s revolution. French settlers, their slaves and many free black people who settled in eastern Cuba brought their customs to the island, including the exquisite gift of pru.
There are those who ascribe a number of benefits to this root beverage. Some claim it lowers blood pressure, others that it helps with stomach aches, yet others that it heals the kidneys and still others that it is an aphrodisiac.
I don’t know how much of this is true. The one thing I’m certain of is that it’s healthy and delicious.
The original recipe includes chinaberry, Ubi roots, soap berry, ginger, sweet pepper leaves, raw cinnamon and brown sugar.
It is prepared by grating the chinaberry and Ubi roots (or soap Berry), dicing the pepper leaves and ginger and adding cinnamon to the mix. The mix is boiled in water and strained. The brew is then poured into a container and, once cool, part of the pulp from an earlier preparation is added. The concoction is allowed to sit from 12 to 24 hours and, after separating about a liter for the next preparation, it is bottled and served cold.
Every rule has an exception and there is more than one way to prepare the beverage.
For instance, there are those who add brown sugar to the mix while boiling it, and those who insist it must be added later. Some recommend letting the brew sit under the sun and outside during the night, while others insist that palm roots and pine shoots must be added to the mix. Others say that the brew can be spiced up a bit with sugarcane liquor and by sealing the container and leaving it underground for three days, then placing it in glass containers and adding caña santa leaves.
Legend has it that French settlers called it “root champagne.” Others call it root-beer. Whatever the name or recipe, the fact is that eastern Cuban pru is a delicious concoction that satisfies even the most demanding of palates.
Signs reading “We Have Pru” or “Pru For Sale”, posted on doors and windows around cities, suburban and rural areas in the provinces of Granma, Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba are a common sight.
Owing to the exodus of people from the eastern provinces to the capital and other localities, pru can now be enjoyed in many places around the country…and beyond. During my visit to the United States, someone mentioned that they sell pru in Miami.
But it’ll never be the same. The most authentic and delicious pru is the one made in Cuba’s east-laying provinces using traditional methods. Even the industrially produced pru offered at several State locales (such as the Casas del Pru), though well received by consumers, cannot compete with a good, homemade pru.
So, if you’re ever down here on a hot day and see a sign on a window or on the menu board outside a food kiosk, don’t hesitate to try our pru, a singular beverage indeed.