Homemade Fruit Syrups And The Bonfire Season

How hot it was around those fires.

When I reached the countryside in the early afternoon, work was almost finished. And at the end of the day I was stunned by the number of jars and bottles of jams, syrups or passata di pomodoro that had been made and found place in the wooden boxes, distributed among the participants of the collective ritual that was consumed every year, despite temperature and mosquitoes, in the countryside of the bassa (lower) Romagna – and the same happened in most of Italy – where my mother’s family comes from.

Homemade Fruit SyrupsLife in the farmyard.

The deus ex machina of those days, for many years, was Grandma Sara. Even though she no longer lived there, her role as “rezdora” (woman who heads the family), calm but firm, made her the perfect orchestra director of a moment that was no trick since it started at dawn and involved a lot of work, including the lunch of the participants, between the heat of the fires and the implacable summer.

I remember my grandmother in the middle of the farmyard, in the countryside where she was born, with a handkerchief to protect her nose and mouth from the hot temperature. The air near the cauldrons, sometimes hanging over a live fire, sometimes placed on improvised tools, was burning.

I can’t forget Egisto’s Kitchen wood stove.

It was old even then and dismissed for something new. In the second half of the seventies progress had also arrived in the countryside, although some families still had the bathroom outside the house.

Anyway, Egisto brought the stove that himself had modified. The stove was placed in the middle of the farmyard, close but not too close to the other bonfires, every fire distant from the others, then filled with wood and, once lit, the fire made it look like the throne of Alastor or a Mercury ready to go. But it didn’t leave for space and, fortunately, it didn’t generate a demon from the flames either. For sure the metals remained incandescent for days and the owner could only come back for it when the hot spirits of the stove had subsided.

Homemade Fruit Syrups And The Bonfire Season

About the ritual.

I don’t attend the great rite since decades. Partly because in our countryside there are less and less people who, even among the peasants, still make large quantities of jams and passata. Partly because growing up, Sara began to leave with me for the holidays, gradually changing from her old habits to introduce others, more as a grandmother.
My memories are very outdated, relative to a few years and, above all, they are those of a little girl who was watching in the background.

Once upon a time in the countryside, it wasn’t only pruning branches, tows and crop waste that were burned. There were large fires that from July to the beginning of September brought together large groups to do hard work, exhausting because of the heat, but it was considered necessary and an opportunity to be together. And perhaps it was precisely the convivial nature of this ritual that made possible the great effort consumed around the huge fires and the hot earth for the summer sun.

And anyway, the big fires were just the final part of an operation that started with the beginning of the day.

First of all there was to clean the bottles, wash and cook the fruit, all locally produced. Once cooked, it would start to drain from the liquids that became syrups, sometimes even spirited, that is slightly alcoholic, or liqueurs. Once the jars were filled and closed, the last phase began, that of boiling in large pots, separating the glasses with old rags so that during cooking they would not break.

In July, jams, jars fruit syrups and the first jars of vegetables in oil were prepared. In August and early September it was still time for jams, but the great protagonist was the tomato. The grape sauces came later, with the grape harvest, and compared to that of the jams and the passata, it was a quite easy job to make.

Homemade Fruit Syrups And The Bonfire SeasonNot only memories. I make homemade syrups still today.

It’s been decades but I can’t forget some of the details of those hot days that never seemed to end. The black cauldron hanging on a high fire, my grandma with a long stick in one hand and the other on her side, the handkerchief to protect her face that lights up when I get out of the car and I immediately start to call her even if she says no, don’t come near me and my dad grabbing me by the collar of my cotton vest to take me under the shade of the porch where there are water, wine, fresh fruit, ciambella. The same place where in mid-morning a quick and light lunch was eaten to give comfort to those who are awake from before sunrise.

While the adults were working, I ran everywhere. I went after the chickens, ran from the geese and visited the pigs with circumspection.

Then I’d sit in the shade of the big apple tree and start running again. Until almost evening when the fire lost intensity and it was almost possible to get closer.

I’m not offering you pot, bonfire and handkerchief today. There is no need to work a large amount of fruit, I usually deal with small quantities and renew my stocks from year to year.

You can also plan a day with friends and sharing work to make that time enjoyable and productive. It’s amazing how much fun it can be to cook together and how much joy you can give by putting a few jars of jams and a couple of bottles of syrups in the pantry.


Readings and Recipes

After this tale, I think it’s easy to understand why I loved the cellar at home so much. In fact, the cellar was the place where you could find jars and bottles, dried fruit, cold cuts and anything else good you can think of. I wrote about the magic of that place in the post dedicated to homemade fruit juice.

Homemade Fruit Syrups And The Bonfire Season

Fruit Syrups

It is a preparation that I use mainly to wet the cakes to be stuffed, to add to the mixture of a cake, to flavor whipped cream. I often mix it with yogurt or a fresh fruit salad. A couple of spoons on Greek yogurt immediately makes a dessert, simple and fresh. Syrups are also excellent as a drink. Mix them with water and ice or add them to the crushed ice to make a granita. Of course you can throw yourself into the preparation of a cocktail.

Cherry drink

Syrup is the liquid I get from cooking fruit. Some people blend together fruit and cooking liquid and then sieve it (the syrup must be smooth and fluid). In this case first you must have pitted the cherries.

I prefer to separate the cooked fruit from the syrup, which is the liquid that has formed during cooking. My favorite, among the most versatile, is cherry, but you can also do it with other fruit. Use the recipe as a base. After cooking the cherries, not pitted, I separate fruit from the liquid and let it drain for a while to recuperate all the syrup. You can eat the fruit immediately, put it in jars (vacuum-packing) or, again, in the freezer (without vacuum-packed of any kind). A super fast method to always have some stock for winter sweets. I like to think that I could inspire you and that some jars of syrup will come back to occupy a small space in your pantry.

Buona cucina, Monica

Homemade Fruit Syrups And The Bonfire Season

Keep In Touch

I like to see when you cook one of my recipes! If you try something, share the photo on Instagram tagging @tortelliniandco and use the hashtag #tortelliniandco.

If you are looking for inspiration for other homemade drinks, you can find my recipes in the Drinks section.

Fruit Syrups Recipe:

Cherry Syrup (that you can use to make your own using your fav fruit)


Ingredients 
about 1 liter


1 kg cherries 
200 g of brown sugar
juice of 1 lemon
500 ml of water

optional: cinnamon or vanilla for flavouring


Direction


Wash and pit the cherries (or not, you see).

Put fruit, sugar and lemon in an airtight container and let it rest in the fridge for a few hours or all night (if you want to add the scent of vanilla or cinnamon, add the aroma now).

After this time, pour everything into a high-sided pot, add the natural water, cook until the cherries are soft, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and removing the foam with a skimmer or spoon.

Turn off the heat.

Now you can go two ways.

  • Blend fruit and liquid. Let it cool and pass everything through a strainer, using the leftover puree to make a dessert. Put in jars and store in the refrigerator for a week or proceed with the vacuum (in this post I talk about how to do it).
  • Or, as I do, once cooked, I separate the fruit from the liquid. I place a large strainer on a pan and let the fruit drain for an hour.

In both cases, the liquid you get is already syrup.

You can keep it in the refrigerator, without further cooking, even for a couple of weeks, otherwise pour it into bottles or jars and proceed with the vacuum.

Cherry

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