Defrutum is a roman syrup made by boiling down grape juice with fruit, used as a condiment, to add some syrupy fruity flavours to a wide variety of dishes.
I took the recipe from the appendices of my book of Apicius, which describes it as being boiled with either quinces or figs, and that the best defrutum was boiled down to one half its original volume.
So I bought fresh figs, and dried, and added both to 2 litres of grape juice, and boiled them together until it was reduced to 1 litre.
The fresh figs unfortunately suffered a tragic bout of shrinkage (nomnomnom) prior to arriving in the saucepan... but three fresh and three dried was more than enough to make it fruity and figgy.
I boiled it for a bit over an hour - until the volume had reduced by half.
Then strained it and funnelled it into a pop-top bottle, which I now keep in my fridge.
I have since used this in a number of Roman recipes (also taken from Apicius) which I will link to when I get around to putting them up here on my blog :)
I also should point out that I happily ate "figs boiled in grape juice with yoghurt" for dessert that night and it was really yummy!
I find that it is a sweet, fruity syrup that has no real modern substitute that I know of. It is a great condiment to add to offset salty dishes and add depth and sweetness.
The full set of photos is in my Defrutum album on flickr
The lovely Leoba of Mordenvale has pointed out that Maggi Beer's "Vino cotto" might be a plausible modern substitute. I haven't tried it yet, but it is made of boiled-down grape must and a little red wine vinegar. The latter would make it slightly more sour than the defrutum recipe (I suspect), but it would most likely keep longer. Given that this is not boiled with figs, it would be more fittingly a replacement for roman sapa (which was likewise grape must boiled down, but with no fruit), but Leoba also informs me that Maggie Beer make a version boiled with figs: Fig Vino Cotto and also Quince vino cotto, which I think I'll try too...
Cristopher Grocock and Sally Grainger(2006) Apicius
Prospect Books ISBN 1-903018-13-7
Relevent page to this recipe: p345