In Belgium’s northern regions of Land of Herve and Hesbaye, the wide valleys that have long been home to many orchards, mainly of apples and pears, have supported the production of artisanal syrup for three centuries.
Originally, the syrup was produced with local varieties of pears and apples on farms that had a cuve (tank) and a press. Other farmers would bring their fruit to these syrup producers to be processed; a tradition of sharing fruit and labor called fabrication à façon that is still practiced today.
However, over time, many farms became specialized and stopped producing syrup. The industrial producers that have taken their place have changed the quality of what is known today as Liegi syrup.
Production of traditional syrup from the Land of Herve and Hesbaye regions calls for the exclusive use of old apple and pear varieties, in varying ratios according to the recipe. No sweeteners are added, whereas modern versions call for the addition of sugar or dates.
The syrup ranges from dark brown to black in color, is shiny, has an aroma of caramelized fruit and is often viscous. Three types of syrup are produced, depending on the pear and apple varieties used, and the ratio of the two fruits in the preparation: sweet, semi-sour and sour.
Once washed, the fruit is cooked for around 12 hours, before being pressed to extract a liquid that is then cooked again for 2-4 hours in large copper one-ton cauldrons. To test when the syrup is ready, the maker observes the syrup’s consistency by letting it drip off a mahète, a metal blade attached to a long wooden handle. Some producers are able to recognize this point by a change in the sound of the boiling liquid. The syrup is excellent with cheese or spread on bread.
Four families continue to produce traditional syrup using artisanal methods in the regions of Land or Herve and Hesbaye. They purchase local varieties of apples and pears from nearby growers and transform them into syrup, according to their own recipe.
Photos — Archivio Slow Food