September is an exciting time of the year in Italy. The season is turning, the heat is less sweltering, and everywhere you’ll find festivals celebrating all sorts of products. Among these, the festivals of the vendemmia (grape harvest) are the most famous, widespread and fun.
Veneto has a time-honoured winemaking tradition that involves pretty much the entire region. However, in the area where I grew up, which hasn’t a particular vocation for wine, lesser varieties were planted and then turned into simple wines for everyday consumption.
In the past, the grape harvest used to employ large parts of the peasant workforce. Seasonal workers would break their back for little money, but they would at least be able to take home some bunches of grapes, perhaps the damaged ones, to eat and cook. From these grapes, thrifty countryside women (including those in my family) would then pull out a sweet pudding called sugoli – a thick, sugar laden sweet treat that was perfect to boost the energy levels of the vendemmiatori. They were what one would call a poor man’s feast.
The name sùgoli comes from the word sugo (juice). It is, in its essence, nothing more than a grape juice pudding. The recipe is as easy as it sounds: just grapes, flour and, perhaps, some sugar. The only thing you’ll need is a fine masher or, better still, a food mill. The rest will come along in no time.
Wash grapes and place them in a large saucepan over a low heat with 60ml/ 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil and simmer until grapes have busted, about 5 minutes. Using a masher or a strainer, separate the juice from seeds and skins. Let the juice cool.
Put the juice back in the saucepan over low heat and add the flour (and, if used, the sugar), whisking energetically to avoid lumps. Bring to a simmer, and cook for about ten minutes, until the sauce becomes thick and dense. Remove from heat and pour into serving cups. Let cool, then store in the refrigerator until ready to eat. Serve cold.