Alcohol at Colditz

Some years ago my friend Ted Stanhope described making wine from unwanted jam; it contains sugar, fruit, and everything else you needed for a good fermentation. He went on to talk about a friend of his who used to make the seeds for the raspberry jam sent out to the troops in the First World War. (it was turnip jam dyed red, and if there were no seeds, it would have given the game away) He made them on a lathe, out of oak, and they looked like the real thing unless you put them under the microscope. It was a sufficiently important job for the guy to be excused military service, apparently.

Years later I started this website, and received some emails asking if wine could be made from jam. I sent some replies back, along the lines of "yes, but if your partner made it, perhaps you should use other ingredients...". At best, I guess you'd get an inferior-tasting carmelised wine a bit like bad sherry. At worst, a divorce.

I thought no more of it until I read the obituary of George Drew in the Daily Telegraph on 19 Nov 2005. I reproduce part of it here:

Serial escaper whose expertise as a distiller and forger stood him in good stead in Colditz

Major George Drew, who has died aged 87, helped his fellow prisoners to cope with the boredom and deprivations of Colditz Castle during the Second World War by producing potent home-made alcohol.

He and his friend Pat Ferguson first tried to brew from the sugar and raisins in Red Cross parcels but failed. Then they realised there was sufficient sugar for fermentation in the turnip jam supplied by the Germans. Mixing the jam with yeast and water, they used a piece of purloined drainpipe and a large tin, sealed with plaster-of-paris from the sick bay, to produce "hooch" for such events as St. Valentine's and St. Patrick's Days. However, the effects of the more than 100 per cent proof alcohol could be severe, even leading to temporary blindness. Dental fillings would fall out. If a man was having obvious difficulty walking and talking in the castle yard it was said that he was "jam happy".

When Drew and Fergusson took part in the Channel 4 television series "Escape from Colditz" in 2000, they made their potion for the first time since 1945. Taking the first glass before the camera, Drew said "Dear God", remarked that the smell was not quite as bad as it used to be, then drank again. "Oh Christ", he gasped.

He found a less lethal diversion in carving some 40 statues of nude women, though he admitted there was one trouble: "The memory was lacking".

more details....

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