Grape Must, a must for must jam …

I mentioned before that as a child I lived for a while on a wine / stud farm in the Boland area of South Africa and some of my lasting memories are sitting beside the fire outside  on a Friday night, learning new songs from the farm workers’ children and listening to the jokes and laughter.  There was the huge  vat with fermenting grapes.  For the life of me I can’t remember if it was made of wood, stainless steel, or something else.  I can still see the big tap though and each male worker got a tin cup full on a Friday night.  That is the way it was in those days.  This system is no longer legal in South Africa – the ramifications of alcohol abuse need no explanation and I fully support the abolition of the “dop system”.   

Moskonfyt, or grape must jam, has been made since the first vineyards (French Muscadel or Hanepoot as I know it) started producing grapes in the old Cape (South Africa)  in the 17th Century. Grape must is the mixture of pressed grape juice, skins seeds and pulp. This mixture is reduced down until it has the consistency of light syrup.  No sugar or preservatives are added.

The reduction of grape must goes as far back as Ancient Rome when it was commonly used as a cooking ingredient. It was boiled down in lead or bronze kettles into a milder concentrate called defrutum or a stronger concentrate called sapa. It was often used as a souring agent and preservative, especially in fruit dishes.  

To quote form Wikipedia :

“Pliny the Elder recommended that defrutum only be boiled at the time of the new moon, while Cato the Censor suggested that only the sweetest possible must should be used. Both writers advised against the use of bronze or copper kettles, as the metals would react with the acids in the defrutum and give the finished product an unpleasant metallic taste. The preferred vessels for boiling and storing defrutum were made of (or lined with) lead, which leached lead acetate crystals into the must when it was boiled, progressively sweetening the mix.” There is an argument to suggest that the continued indigestion of small amounts of lead, which leads to infertility and high infant-mortality, was one of the main causes in the decline of Rome.”

I found some Muscat grapes at the Asian supermarket and made jam.  I reserved about 2 cups of grapes, crushed them and let them ferment for 5 days.  It was bubbly and smelled yeasty and whiffs of days gone by assailed my senses and I was happy and excited. I strained the syrup, squeezed the cheesecloth extra tight to get every last drop of precious liquid and then boiled it down to syrup consistency.  The end result?  Only a quarter cup’s worth of syrup but a quarter cup of happy memories is priceless, in my opinion.  I’ll enjoy it, one teaspoon at a time, till I get my eager hands on some more Muscat grapes …

Next “on my menu’ : Mosbolletjies – fluffy bread buns flavored with yeasty must (also the leavening agent) and aniseed. Well, that’s how they made it back in the day. Nowadays, grape juice, active yeast and aniseed have taken over because who, in their right mind, will press grapes in their kitchen and let it ferment just to bake some buns? Hmmmmmmm…

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