Words and Pictures by Pat Eggleton

I’ve always made my own jams and preserves and have continued to do so in Sicily.

I have had to make some changes, though, as some ingredients are difficult to find or just not available and I have also adjusted the quantity of certain preserves I make, as Sicilians, and Italians in general, think that to combine sweet and savoury is the strangest thing in the world. I point out to them that a classic Sicilian dish is sweet and sour rabbit, but they merely shrug their shoulders and say that that is different.

So the British habit of eating chutney - for American readers, chutney is like a thick salsa but it is a preserve – with cheese or cold meats is positively Martian to the Sicilians, who also shun dried fruit. Well, no one could blame them for the latter, as the island produces so much fresh fruit all year round; what need have they of dried fruit?

The British started drying fruit because it was unavailable in the winter months. You can, in Sicily, find sultanas, brought here by the Arabs, but every March 1st, when I insist on making Welshcakes for St David’s Day, I make a batch without sultanas for some of my Sicilian friends.

At Christmas, kind friends send me fresh cranberries from Britain – one year I am sure the package will burst and I will be cursed by the postman – and I make cranberry sauce. The Sicilians I have given jars to insist on eating it as you would jam and when I offered some to them on crackers with cheese it was obvious that my reputation as a madwoman had taken on a whole new dimension. One adventurous friend ate some with chicken stew last year and I didn’t dare ask how that turned out!

I have also made mincemeat for mince pies here – the suet comes in the post from Britain – but again, the Sicilian dislike of dried fruit causes me to wonder if it is worth it. This Christmas I am going to try Nigella Lawson’s apple mincemeat recipe.

Once, with Rosa’s help, I made a batch of chutney in the middle of August. You have got to be crazy to carry out such hot work in temperatures of 44 C and now that I am older and wiser the only preserving I do in summer is to make tomato sauce. Two years ago I purchased a tomato-squashing gadget of which I am immensely proud.

I have a friend who made 500 kilos of sauce last year and, even with this enormous amount in stock, the family had run out of sauce by March. [She does have a very large family!] As my own efforts do not produce anything like this quantity, I freeze mine in small portions but most Sicilians preserve their sauce in jars.

With jams and marmalades – jam is “marmellata” – we are on surer ground and all the ingredients you need are available, including powdered pectin if you are using low-pectin fruits or want to be sure of a good set, though Italians are content with the lighter set that the British call “French”.

This year I invented a medlar [nespole] jam which went down very well with all.

Apart from tomato sauce, where preserve-making really comes into its own in Sicily is in the making of fruit liqueurs. Everyone knows limoncello, and the recipes for this liqueur vary with each lemon-growing region. There are as many limoncello recipes as there are housewives who make it and I offer you this method from my friend Chiara:

Limoncello

These are the quantities Chiara uses:
6 - 9 lemons, depending on size, unwaxed if possible
;
750 gr sugar; 
1 litre still mineral water;

half litre pure alcohol or vodka.



These are the quantities I use:

6 - 9 lemons, depending on size, unwaxed if possible
;
375 gr sugar
: 500 ml still mineral water
;
75 cl bottle pure alcohol or vodka.


Method
Carefully wash and dry the lemons.

Peel them, making sure no white pith clings to the peel.

Put the peel in a wide jar, pour in the alcohol, cover and leave for 2 - 3 weeks.


At the end of that period, dissolve the sugar in the water to make a syrup. 
When the syrup is cool, add it to the lemon mixture.

Strain* the mixture through a sieve lined with muslin and pour into sterilised bottle[s].


Leave for at least 2 weeks, 4 if you can, before serving.
The bottle[s] should be put in the freezer before serving.

* Chiara says she doesn't always bother to strain hers and it is delicious!

In Italy you can buy 95% proof pure alcohol and that is what Italians use. You can't buy it in the UK so I used to use vodka there. This makes the drink stronger so you need to be careful when serving.





Orange Ratafia

Here is another delicious liqueur recipe from Chiara:
3 - 4 ripe oranges;
1 litre alcohol 45-50% proof [if you are making this in Britain you will have to use vodka.];
1 kg sugar; half litre water.

Method
Peel the oranges and squeeze out the juice. Put the peel, juice and any remaining pulp into a wide, glass container with the alcohol or vodka. Seal and leave for 10 days.
After 10 days, boil the water and sugar together to make a syrup. Let it cool.
Strain the orange mixture and add the syrup to the liquid.
Re-seal the container and leave it all for 2 weeks before straining it again and bottling.
Then leave it alone for 1 month!

In Sicily you can buy, very cheaply, pretty bottles for your liqueurs. Here is a picture of my finished quince liqueur, which I was very happy to make as quinces are difficult to find in Britain. [The recipe is copyright so I cannot give it here.]

You need that star Sicilian quality, “pazienza” to make these liqueurs but I assure you it is worth it.

Cincin!