Homemade Grape Molasses

Quince preserved in grape molasses

Arrope, mostillo, mostarda, saba, vin cotto, vino cotto, pekmez, petimezi—these words from various lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea all mean the same thing: grape juice boiled down to a thick syrup. Before Arabs introduced cane sugar to Europe, molasses from grapes, figs, or pomegranates was the best substitute for honey, a product that was usually more costly—or painful—to obtain.*

Grape molasses is still fairly common around the Mediterranean. In Spain arrope is used to fortify wines, to transform them into liqueurs with rounded flavor and enhanced sweetness. In Italy vin cotto is sometimes be served with quince paste and cheese. In Turkey pekmez is used in preparing many desserts. Grape molasses is also dribbled on toast, salads, steak, yogurt, and ice cream, and used as a marinade for duck and other meats.

The typical way to begin making grape molasses is to save some of the must when you’re pressing grapes for wine. You need at least two quarts must, which you’ll get from about six pounds of grapes. If you don’t have a fruit press, you can separate the juice from the seeds and skins by putting stemmed grapes through a tomato strainer. Or you can heat the grapes in a covered kettle until they come to a boil and burst their skins, and then drain the juice through a colander. For a jammier texture, press the grapes through a fine strainer (or use a food mill, if the grapes are seedless).

The second and final step in making grape molasses is to gently boil the juice—in a wide, heavy, nonreactive pan—until you have a thick syrup (like hot honey), taking care that it doesn’t caramelize. The boiling requires at least an hour and a half, longer if you’re using more than two quarts must.

Store the hot molasses in tightly closed jars. You can process the jars in a boiling-water bath, if you like, just as you would jam—five minutes if you’ve sterilized the jars first, ten minutes if you haven’t.

The color, texture, and flavor of your grape molasses will depend on your grape variety. The juice will darken with boiling in any case, but dark grapes, to my mind, make the most visually attractive molasses. The molasses will be more or less tart, and notably astringent or not. If it’s made from an American grape variety, it may jell upon cooling, though slow cooking can prevent this.

To make preserves in a truly ancient style, add fruit to your grape molasses while it’s cooking. Dried fruit, such as figs, are added to the juice at the start of the cooking. A few weeks ago I added a cup of dried figs to the juice of eight pounds of seedless, blue Glenora grapes to make two pints of dark, rich preserves.

Even more interesting are my Glenora-quince preserves. Quinces conveniently ripen at about the same time as grapes, so combining the two seems natural. I used a pound of quinces—peeled, quartered, cored, and then cut into smaller pieces—for six pounds of grapes. I added the quinces to the juice after reducing it by half. Then I gently boiled the fruit in the syrup for about an hour, until the syrup was suitably thick.

Semi-reduced juice with quinces just added

Early in the cooking, my quinces looked almost like sliced beets in beet juice. Afterward, in jars, the quince pieces were invisible in the dark molasses.

Preserves made with grape or other fruit molasses are more complex in taste than preserves made with refined sugar. Deliciously tart, mildly astringent Glenora-quince preserves go just as well with smoked pork or roast poultry as with toast or yogurt.

Fat bunches of Canadice grapes, my favorite for fresh eating, still hang on the vines trellised over our back deck. Before the birds and wasps get them all, I think I’ll boil some down into molasses.

* I use the word molasses for these fruit products because it originally meant “honey-like.” The word syrup seems less suitable, from a historical perspective, because it comes from an Arabic word for a sugar-sweetened drink. 

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About Linda Ziedrich

I grow, cook, preserve, and write about food in Oregon's Willamette Valley.
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13 Responses to Homemade Grape Molasses

  1. Very interesting post! I learned something new…thanks for sharing!

  2. This sounds amazing – we have plenty of quince at the moment so if I can get hold of some must….!

  3. The southern Italian name for this versatile, healthy syrup is vino cotto.

    • Thanks for that information, Deena. For those who want to taste grape molasses without making their own, Deena and her family are selling theirs at http://www.vinocotto.us.

      • Thank you, Linda!
        In case you’re wondering, authentic vino cotto contains no alcohol, no vinegar, no added sugars or high-fructose corn syrup, and no added salt. It’s the base ingredient found in condiment-grade balsamic vinegar. Add some distilled vinegar to vino cotto to make your own balsamic vinegar–make it as sweet or vinegary as you like, then add to it some classic olive oil for a delicious balsamic vinaigrette.

  4. Deborah says:

    Linda, I’m wondering if something similar to this could be made with elderberry juice. I made your rob recipe last September and the children loved it (faked being flu-ish to get more). I used a steamer to extract the juice. We get gallons of juice, some of which I ferment to wine.

    But, what if I didn’t add sugar and just boiled it down to a syrup. Would it keep without processing or refrigeration? Is it acid enough?

  5. Deborah, I don’t think acidity would be a problem, but elderberries aren’t particularly sweet (you add a lot of sugar to them when you make wine, right?). So you might end up boiling away almost all of the juice before it turned to syrup.

  6. Catherine says:

    Hi Linda,
    İ am living in Turkey right now and have not been able to find molasses made from sugar cane, but we have many varieties of pekmez made from grapes and other fruits (also saw some carob molasses). İ also have not been able to locate brown sugar, which İ could make myself if İ could find the cane molasses. =) Do you think İ could substitute grape molasses for cane molasses to make brown sugar for baking?

    • Sure, Catherine, why not? I’d be interested to hear how you like the result.

      By the way, last night, in a hurry, I pan-fried albacore steaks in olive oil and then drizzled them with watermelon molasses. Delicous!

      • Catherine says:

        Wow! Watermelon molasses?! I have to say it has been really fun cooking in Turkey. I had not cooked for years before coming here – I was a bit of a workaholic back home. =) There are a lot of ingredients that I can’t find here so I’ve had to learn how to make things from scratch and it is lots of fun. My favorite homemade ingredient so far is sour cream – I needed it for a coffee cake recipe but then I started craving tacos. I looked up recipes for taco seasoning and tortillas. They were amazing! Of course, it helps that the produce in Turkey is very fresh and flavorful. Anyhow, I’ll give the grape molasses a try and let you know what I think!

    • RITA WETSI says:

      i want to know how to do Grape Molasses in the house and as well as sugar cane molasses and the method and the recipe
      thanks

      RITA

      • Rita, the instructions for making grape molasses, in or out of the house, are in this post. Maybe you missed them because the process is so simple. But processing sugarcane is another matter entirely. It isn’t something I’d do at home, even if I could grow sugarcane in Oregon.

  7. vicki says:

    I also live in Turkey and regularly use pekmez as brown sugar. I may use half white sugar and the other half pekmez.

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