I AM one of the lucky few who can still remember the Little Italy of Sagamore Village, just across the canal from here, where the mainland becomes Upper Cape Cod. It was a vibrant community of mostly Northern Italian immigrants, where one could hear regional dialects, where women made sweet ravioli for the holidays, and men, among them my grandfather, made their own wine. Little of the community exists today, but a few of us are keeping one of our village’s autumn traditions alive: reserving kitchen time to make a versatile, dense fruit butter called savor.
I use savor (pronounced sa-VOR) as a sweet-and-sour condiment for meat, a filling for those old-fashioned fried ravioli dusted with sugar, a filling for holiday crostatas or tarts, and as an addition to a dense cake called brasadella that is a specialty of my 90-year-old friend Mafalda Maiolini. I even spread savor on thick slices of toasted Italian bread for breakfast.
Traditionally our neighbors made it by cooking down late-season fruits in homemade red wine to form a rich, dense jam. In Italy apples, pears and quinces would have been the favorites; in New England we added cranberries. Ms. Maiolini still makes savor by a lengthy process that involves cooking the ripe fruit for seven days. (”That’s how my mother made it,” she said. ”It has to be made that way.”)
As a food stylist and recipe developer, I have experimented making savor using different ingredients and methods. My favorite is an adaption of Ms. Maiolini’s directions, which yields a simpler but no less delicious savor. It is cooked for a total of 12 hours instead of her 56-plus hours. (I have to confess that when I proudly brought this version to her, she was not fooled. Ms. Maiolini tasted it, looked encouraging and said, ”It’s almost there.”)
The version offered here is thickened with ground chestnuts and preserved in small jars. Cook it in six- to eight-hour stints separated by overnight rests, or for as long as you have the patience. Keep in mind that the danger of scorching increases with every hour of cooking. The old cooks used very low heat and watched it intently when it reached the last stages.
Try to make savor before seasonal fruits disappear from local farm stands. Be very careful in selecting the fruit: it must be absolutely ripe, with intense sweetness and flavor.
After reading Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa’s introduction to classical Roman cuisine, ”A Taste of Ancient Rome,” I started using saba, unfermented boiled-down grape must, for the wine. I think the saba (which is available at Fairway in Manhattan) produces a more complex richness.
Last fall while traveling in Emilia-Romagna, I actually found a pot of savor on the stove. The woman making it invited me in, and called it marmalade, but I knew at once what it was. So this treat, so synonymous with my childhood memories, also serves as a fragrant reminder of the origins of our Massachusetts village’s traditions.
Time: 12 hours’ cooking over 2 days
6 large ripe pears
6 large crisp apples
6 large ripe peaches
1 pound Italian prune-plums or other plums
1 pound seedless red grapes
12 ounces fresh cranberries
12 pitted prunes
12 ounces pitted dried apricots
12 ounces dark raisins Zest of 2 oranges, removed in strips and minced
1 bottle red wine or saba (see note)
1 quart red grape juice
1 quart cranberry juice
1 cup cooked peeled chestnuts
1. Peel and core pears and apples; peel and pit peaches and plums. Cut into coarse 1-inch dice, and place in a nonreactive (like stainless steel) heavy-bottomed 8-quart pot. Add grapes, cranberries, prunes, apricots, raisins and orange zest. Add wine or saba, grape juice and cranberry juice, and mix well.
2. Place pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to its lowest possible setting, and simmer, uncovered, for 6 hours. Remove from heat and allow to sit, loosely covered, at room temperature overnight. (Sugar and acid in mixture will keep it from spoiling.) The next day, uncover pot and again bring to a boil. Reduce heat to lowest possible setting, and simmer for 6 more hours. Toward the end of the cooking, stir frequently to prevent scorching.
3. Remove pot from heat; mixture will be very dark and thick. Place chestnuts in a food processor and process to a mealy purée. Stir into cooked mixture. While mixture is still hot, pour into sterile pint jars and seal according to manufacturers’ directions. Savor may also be covered and refrigerated for up to 4 months, or frozen in tightly sealed containers for up to 6 months
Yield: 11 pints.
Note: Saba is $11.99 a half-liter at Fairway.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Co. Reprinted with permission. November 3, 2004