Long before Italian women ever used sugar, they had saba, a natural sweetener like honey. They took armloads of grapes collected at the end of the wine harvest, pressed and stemmed them until their juices ran free, and then cooked them slowly, reducing them to a thick syrup with a deep earthy sweetness. Saba has a complex provocative taste with none of the cloying sweetness of sugar, as if molasses were stirred into raisins that had cooked into a syrup.
Ida Lancellotti makes saba every fall and preserves it for use through the arc of the year. It is traditional to serve a great dome of hot soft polenta poured onto a communal plate and allow everyone to scoop out a hollow in the portion in front of them, and pour in a portion of saba for flavor. Children love saba mixed with snow—the original snow cone—and Signora Lancellotti has a particularly compelling use for saba in making savor, a fruit conserve combining apples, pumpkins, and quince.