Spoon desserts are quite the Greek tradition. They’re also very popular, very sweet and can be made using almost any kind of fruit boiled with sugar and oftentimes added herbs and/or spices. When I was a kid and a teenager I considered them unbearably uncool, boring and tasteless; I mean, it was just cooked fruit in a sugary syrup. There was no texture, no fluffiness, no layers and, most importantly, no chocolate or even butter! I snubbed them and thought I was so right to do so.
A few summers ago, after waking up from my usual almost two-hour nap, I craved something sweet like crazy. As it always happens, my parents never have anything cake-y or cookie-y in the house, so I reached for the vanilla ice cream, their summer must-have. Still, I could not have it on it’s own, so before starting to look for nuts, I decided to live a little, become a wild child and stuff, and grabbed the jar of grape dessert.
OK, clearly I had been an arrogant fool all those years: sweet, but not cloyingly so, soft but still holding a bite, with a perfectly thickened smooth syrup, those grapes were just perfect. I repeated the process a number of times that summer and have been ever since. I’ve also experimented with making my own version. It’s very easy to do and here are some general info and useful tips to have in mind:
Spoon desserts are an excellent way to preserve fresh fruit and enjoy them past their season; hosts and hostesses would usually make a couple jars at a time, which also meant they’d easily have a dessert in hand to serve to guests, as the jars can be stored in the fridge (or a dark, cool place) for a very long time.
Apart from economical and delicious, they are also considered a relatively healthy dessert, as they contain no fat, just sugar, which is used not only to add to the sweetness of the fruit, but also helps preserve it.
You can follow this rule of thumb to make them, although the process may differ, depending on the fruit you use: first briefly cook the fruit in medium-low heat, allowing them to release their juices; then add the sugar (and some water, if needed) and increase the heat, leaving the pan uncovered, so the dessert comes together quick and the fruit keeps their colour. Any additional ingredients, such as herbs and/or spices are added towards the end, so their fragrance remains intense.
3 cups red seedless grapes, washed and (optionally) cut in half
1 cup granulated sugar
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 leaves rose geranium (if not available, you can substitute with a 2cm piece peeled ginger)
1/3 cup water
Add the grapes to a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat and allow them to release their juices, about 7’.
Add the sugar and water and increase the heat to medium high, stiring frequently until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid starts to thicken- about 25’. It should look syrupy, but not quite reach jam consistency. Bear in mind that as it cools down, the syrup will become even thicker, so try not to overcook- if you do however, you can easily loosen it by adding about 1/4 cup of water and heating briefly over medium-low heat.
When the cooking time is almost over, add the lemon juice and rose geranium leaves (or ginger) and stir.
Before removing from the heat, take out the leaves and discard.
Allow to cool slightly and spoon into clean, sterilised jars.
Serve teaspoons at a time, or spoon over ice cream.