Moustalevria is a Greek dessert made out of grape must, corn flour and, traditionally, wood ash. It is best made in the month of September when the grapes are ripe for picking and grape must is fresh. Must is the juice of the grape after it has been pressed but before it has fermented. It can be bought from specialty shops, but many Greek households make it from scratch.
The grapes are washed and carefully de-stalked before being slowly boiled in their own juice without any added water. They are then crushed by hand or mill to extract the must. This is then sieved through a fine mesh to separate the liquid from the grape skin and seeds. A small spoonful of ash from the fireplace or wood oven is added and the mixture is boiled slowly for an hour.
The liquid is then sieved again and cooled. It is measured and the appropriate amount of flour or corn flour is added and mixed till the flour has dissolved. This mixture is boiled again and as soon as it starts to thicken, the moustalevria is poured into bowls, topped with chopped almonds and cinnamon and left to cool. The end result is a thick gel which is eaten with a spoon.
Traditionally, the ash used in the making of moustalevria was the result of fires started with the wood taken from trees surrounding country villages. Nowadays, because not everyone has a fireplace or access to clean wood, the ash can be replaced by a spoonful of baking soda or baking powder, depending on the recipe. In some cases, if the grapes were very ripe and sweet, the addition of ash or baking soda is not necessary and the recipe can be reduced to grape must and corn flour or flour. The ash is added to reduce the bitterness of the wine and remove the impurities from the must.
Greek cooking is seasonally based and the freshest ingredients used when in season. For this reason, moustalevria is at its best during September and October which are the grape picking months. Other sweets made using grape must are moustokouloura, or grape must cookies, and petimezopita, made from the natural homemade sweetener petimezi, or boiled down grape must. In the past, before the advent of sugar and artificial sweeteners, petimezi was stored in airtight jars and used year round to sweeten breads, cakes, puddings and cookies.