Bunch after bunch, with patient and repetitive gestures, women in Montorio al Vomano separate the grapes from the stalks one by one, until they fill entire pots. After slow boiling and careful straining, the jam acquires a characteristic colour, between violet and brown, and a delicious flavour which is essential for making the most important cakes and pastries, from the bocconotti biscuits and jam tarts to the pizza dolce ( a sweet layered cake – from the ancient name of rounded dough, pizza), for festive occasions like Christmas and Easter, First Communions and marriages, when the effort made to produce them is rewarded at last.
In Montorio al Vomano, at the beginning of the Alta Valle del Vomano, grape jam is the fundamental ingredient for the local bakers’ confectionery. Made from boiling locally grown Montepulciano grapes, this jam is the result of a long and complex preparation procedure, starting with the harvesting on the rows and the accurate washing of the grapes. They are then selected manually with a patient work of separation from the stalks, placed in large pots and boiled for about an hour and a half after which, when cooled, the mush is pressed by hand through a sieve (lu crivelluccë) to carefully separate the inner seeds and the residual skins from the pulp . A second boiling period, longer than the previous one, cooks the grapes completely and brings the jam to the right consistency.
Then the canning phase takes place with previously sterilized glass containers; the jam, placed in the jars, is boiled in a bain-marie in order to ensure longer preservation, which is functional to the need to use the jam throughout the year for numerous festive occasions. Grape jam is still, in fact, the main ingredient in the filling of the most important and emblematic examples of the bakers’ confectionery of Montorio, including the renowned bocconotto biscuit and the “old-school” pizza dolce (sweet layered cake); for this purpose, the jam is delicately flavoured with cinnamon, chocolate, toasted and shredded almonds, grated lemon peel and a little liqueur.
With dedication, passion and respect for family memory, Ersilia Di Luigi, , carries on her mother’s tradition every year. She remembers her going to the countryside with her friends in autumn to pick grapes on the rows, then boiling them in a huge copper boiler; jam making was a long and complex process which lasted several days but it was also a time of celebration and an opportunity for women to spend time together. She used to return home with black hands and huge filled jars, which she used for baking or to give as presents during the year.
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From grapes to the sieve
Ersilia Di Luigi while sieving the jam at the end of boiling to eliminate seeds and peel.
Montorio al Vomano (TE), October 2, 2017.
Footage by Stefano Saverioni,
Don Nicola Jobbi/Bambun Study Centre Archive
Transmission and conservation
The grape jam is produced at home using Montepulciano quality grapes from the hills surrounding the village, still cultivated by the owners, or bought from local wineries. Ersilia Di Luigi is handing down the traditional method of preparation learned from her mother, scrupulously following the procedures. The transfer of knowledge within families about grape jam production is closely connected to the preparation of the most important examples of the bakers’ confectionery in Montorio, such as the bocconotti biscuits and the pizza dolce (sweet layered cake), but also jam tarts and Saint Anthony’s bird-shaped biscuits (uccelletti), made at home to coincide with the main festive occasions. It can, therefore, be inferred that the transmission of the production of grape jam is in direct relationship to the preservation of local confectionery production, for which it is a fundamental ingredient which is difficult to find, especially according to the methods of artisanal preparation. The presence of bakeries and commercial activities connected to them further promotes the continuity of its production and its wide use throughout the year.