Mustard Apple Pickle from Mantua (la mostarda mantovana)

15 August 2014

With a rich culinary tradition reflecting a blend of Renaissance riches and rural tradition, northern Italy’s Mantua region is known – amongst other things – for its pickled fruit – and Mustard Apple Pickle (la mostarda mantovana) is my discovery this apple season.

With origins going back to the 14thcentury at least, this is essentially candied fruit (can also be made with quinces) flavoured with mustard essential oil or, alternatively, mustard powder mixed with vinegar, or prepared mustard without any herbal additions.

Made in stages, it is perfect for people like me with just snatches of time in between everything else – the technique is one of marinating and boiling and marinating again over a number of days (the number varies according to recipe but the principle remains the same), producing glistening chunks of mustard-enhanced fruit served as an accompaniment to meat and cheese and still a firm feature of traditional Sunday lunches in northern Italy today.

Mustard Apple Pickle from Mantua 

Prep. Time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes each time over three days

Makes: about 1 kg

Apples          1 kg

Sugar           400 g

* Mustard      1 Tbsp (or more according to taste)

* Mustard essential oil or, alternatively, mustard powder mixed with vinegar, or prepared mustard without any herbal additions (strength according to taste)

1. Wash, peel and core the apples before cutting them into bite-sized pieces.

2. Place the apple pieces in a bowl, sprinkle with the sugar, cover and leave to marinate for 48 hours.

3. Strain the apples over a saucepan. Place the strained apple pieces back in the bowl and bring the juice in the pan to the boil. Simmer fro 4 minutes and then pour the hot syrup over the pieces in the bowl. Cover and leave to marinate for 24 hours.

4. Repeat this process another two times of the next two days.

5. The next day, bring the apple pieces and the juice to the boil in a saucepan, simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the mustard and pot in sterilised jars.

6. Stored in a cool, dark place the apple pickle will keep for many months. Serve as an accompaniment to meat and cheese – in Northern Italy they also use it as a tortellini filling…

For a little more insight into the cultural landscape behind this recipe here is a highly readable potted version of Mantua:


11 thoughts on “Mustard Apple Pickle from Mantua (la mostarda mantovana)

  1. This sounds delicious. I have the ingredients and as soon as I get another burst of energy am going to try this. So glad I found your blog.


  2. By the way, what kind of mustard do you recommend? I was thinking of just using mustard powder, but maybe some kind of prepared mustard is better.


  3. I was planning to use mustard powder (that was the purist in me…) until I discovered I didn’t have any more (and can’t get it powdered here in Germany – have to fetch when I am in England!) so that’s when the pragmatist kicked in and I opted for a quality plain prepared mustard – smooth mustard prepared with white wine and oil but no added herbs or flavourings of any kind – and no regrets, will do the same again next time 🙂


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