Friday, December 15, 2006

Mostarda di Cremona – Christmas means Hot & Spicy Fruit

Mostarda di Cremona, as many specialty regional dishes, becomes a protagonist during the Christmas holidays. That is not to say that it is not available year round just that during the holidays it is a must have in the families of Lombardia (Lombardy). It is spicy hot fruit. I think of it as the ultimate sweet and spicy dish. This interesting luxurious treat finds its origins in the same town that brought us Torrone.

From the days of the Roman Empire numerous citations of sweet fruit conserved in a spicy mustard seed sauce but it is not until the XIV century that the Mustard seed sauce is officially recognized as way to conserve fruit. In centuries past fruit was a prized commodity but without the preservatives widely used today fruit was available only during brief six week periods when the fruit would mature. Numerous methods were developed to conserve foods for the coming winter months including making jams, jellies and drying the fruit. The official recipe of Mostarda di Cremona was published in 1780.

Do not confuse Mostarda with mustard. While both have mustard seeds as part of their ingredients, mustard comes from the French word moutarde while Mostarda derives from the Latin word mustum meaning grape must which is an integral part of the original recipe. The reason we associate Mostarda di Cremona with Christmas comes from the method of production. Mostarda is made from the grape must used in making wine and usually is available in the month of November. Once prepared, Mostarda needs to sit at least two weeks. Thus Mostarda comes ready right in the period of the holidays.

The custom of preparing the fruit for the winter months was developed alongside the use of must, vinegar and mustard as a condiment and preserving agent, so combining the sugar with the antioxidant and energetic properties of this spice. The Italian Mostarda as we know it today is characterized by the presence of candied fruit in a syrup which has been spiced with a variable quantity of mustard seed. Although regional Italian traditions have given rise to various versions, the most famous is the Mostarda of Cremona.

Most northern Italians will buy Mostarda at the local Deli or Pastry shop. This is prepared by the storeowner or sometimes prepared at home by local families. Sperlari made its name with Mostarda di Cremona producing the Spicy Sweet fruit since the early 1800s. Today there are numerous industrial products available even here in the US but these versions are tend to be sweet with only a hint of spicy. Try this recipe, you will love it or hate it, there is no middle ground with Mostarda!

Mostarda di Cremona is usually a side dish served with boiled meats.

A word about the fruit: Apricots, peaches, pears, small apples, tangerines, cherries, quinces, and figs. If the fruit is small sized, the presentation is much nicer if you leave the fruit whole (pit what needs pitting), or at the most cut in half lengthwise. If you instead use larger fruit, cut it up as necessary.

4 ½ lbs (2 kg) peeled, cored and cleaned fruit.
2 ¼ lbs (1 kg) sugar
2 oz (50 g) ground mustard seed
1 glass dry white wine


In a large mixing bowl add the sugar to the fruit, mix together, cover and let sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Strain the fruit over a medium sized saucepan. Return the fruit to the bowl. Over medium low heat reduce the liquid for about 30 minutes. Do not allow the liquid to caramelize reducing the heat if necessary.

Return the reduced liquid back to the fruit. Leave uncovered and let sit for another 24 hours. Do not refrigerate.

Strain the fruit again over a medium saucepan. The syrup will draw additional water from the fruit. Return the fruit to the bowl and reduce the sauce again for at least 15 minutes. Return the syrup to the fruit and let it sit for another 24 hours. Remember do not cover the fruit mixture. Condensation will ruin the Mostarda.

Strain the fruit again. Over low heat reduce the syrup.

Prepare the mustard flavor. In a small saucepan mix the ground mustard seed in a glass of white wine. Over medium heat reduce the mustard wine mixture.

Sterilize 2 1-pint jars.

Fill the two jars with the fruit. Add the reduced mustard-wine sauce in equal amounts. Finally cover the fruit with the syrup to the top. Tap the jars numerous times while filling with the syrup to remove any air bubbles. Press the fruit down and close.

It is not necessary to heat seal the jars. The sugar content is high enough to prohibit the formation of bacteria.

Set on the shelf and let sit at least two weeks.


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Blogger Dianne said...

Wow! This sounds fantastic, I love the idea of this! I may even try and make some ... alas, not in time for christmas though!

5:40 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

It is an interesting side dish. When you see the fruit it is so inviting that you just want to open it up and munch down the contents, but do not make this mistake. It should also accompany something else!

8:42 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My parents used to serve Mostarda with Manzo.Boiled beef (used in making broth for capeletti).
The combination of the meat with the candied fruit was fantastic.
I have been disappointed with the product sold in Canada.
Will make my own now
Buon natale

9:11 AM


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