Long ago, mostarda referred to a simple sauce or condiment that was both sweet and spicy. Mostarda from Cremona falls into this category, however it is traditionally made with fruit, either a single variety or mixed.
Mostarda di Cremona
In the classic recipe, each variety of fruit is cooked separately in simple syrups made from sugar and water. The fruit should not be overcooked, but remain whole and fairly sold. Once the fruit is cooked, it is drained and placed aside. The various cooking syrups are put in a single pot. Additional sugar and mustard seed, or powder dissolved in a little water, are added to the pot and left to cook until the water evaporates. The fruit is placed in glass jars and the resulting syrup is added until it covers the fruit. The mostarda should be kept in a cool, dark place.
Mostarda is traditionally made at home during the end of the summer through fall. Local, seasonal fruits and vegetables are used to make the preserves, including pumpkin, white watermelon, figs, apples, pears, cherries and orange rind. Montaigne, the French Renaissance writer, mentions a mostarda made with “mele cotonie”, or quince, which he had the chance to taste during a trip through northern Italy. Originally, mostarda was probably made with cooked grape must rather than syrup. The must, or mosto ardente, was a product fall grape harvest and perhaps gave birth to the word “mostarda.”
Since ancient times, mostarda has been paired with meats, especially poultry and game. Its bittersweet taste is typical of the Renaissance era, even if there are previous mentions of mostarda. Mostarda production was industrialized in 1836 by Enea Sperlari. Most mostarda you find today is made with candied fruit, immersed in syrup flavored with mustard oil. In addition to the traditional fruits, you can now find mostarda made from apricots, peaches, mandarins, citron, pineapples and prunes.