In the Upper East corner of Ghana in West Africa is the border town of Bawku. It’s a lively little town full of smugglers and merchants from many regional tribes. Through the year, it is sometimes damp, usually dusty, always hot. If you’re there, you’ll be thirsty.
Pito is the traditional brew in this part of Africa and is served in a calabash. It can have sweetness without being sweet, and just enough sourness to liven a dry mouth. A couple of calabashes of pito, with a block of ice added, is a refreshing mood enhancer on hot days.
I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bawku between 1993–1995. My job was teaching art at a high school. Some days, after school, I’d ride my bike out to a tall tree on the side of the road with a millet stalk privacy screen at its trunk. I’d squeeze onto a long bench with other patrons. A woman would place a grass ring at my feet and ask if I wanted ice block (always yes) then she would bring out a calabash bowl of pito, steady it’s round base in the ring at my feet, and I would sit, talk, sip, listen to a busker play Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” on a one-string guitar, and I'd end up dancing.
Recipe from Kusasi brewers in Bawku, Ghana (Kpalwega side)
- Use one of the following grains
Guinea Corn: for sweet red pito
Sorghum: also for sweet, red pito
Corn: for the sweetest white pito
- 2 okra stalks (the long woody stem, not the vegetable)
- Handful of pito yeast
The brewing process:
Soak Guinea Corn, Sorghum or corn for 12 hours and sieve. Spread on the ground and cover with leaves—tight—allow no air to enter for 3 days. Water in the AM and PM. Should begin to germinate after 3 days. For the sweeter Dagati Pito, allow to germinate “plenty”.
Uncover and squeeze the germinated grain—if it is Guinea Corn or Sorghum, it will change color from green to red—kneed it then leave to dry.
Grind the malt rough—like gari—not fine like flour. Soak the malt in a water pot 30-45 minutes. Pound 2 okra sticks until they become like a sponge. Place inside pot and mix with the malt so the “slippery” leaves the sticks and enters the malt—1 hour.
Heat a pot with “small” water and bring to a boil. Clear okra sticks from malt and add the malt to the boiling pot. Stir while boiling. Add water if it starts getting think. You will just know when it is ready. Transfer to a different pot until the following day. Taste to see if it is sour. Clear the water from the top and leave the chaff on the bottom.
Boil the water from the top and chaff from the bottom separately. Be sure to keep the heat light—don’t burn it. Boil both for between 1.5 to 2 hours. Sieve the chaff pot—do not allow large particles to pass. Rinse through the chaff and add liquid to the pot. Let sit overnight.
Soak local yeast—1handful per water-pot (roughly 20 gallons)—for 20-30 minutes. Add to the pot and allow to set overnight. Pito in the morning.
Be sure to collect the yeast from the bottom of the pot for the next batch.
(Recipe as told to Mark Manger by Mercy Hawa Bugri, Joseph Anyesigi, and Moses in November 2003.)
You know those “Bolga” Baskets, or “African Market Baskets” that you see everywhere here in the US? That basket weaving tradition started not as a way to carry items from the market, but they were originally woven to serve as sieves for pito brewing.