Gennaro Fabbri had a plan. He would stop selling chairs and find a small shop with a vinaia (wine cellar) that could be converted into a distillery for the production of liquori and syrups. He found what he was looking for in the main piazza of a small town called Portomaggiore in the province of Ferrara, in Emilia-Romagna. Helped by a loan from his brother, Antonio, Gennaro made the necessary alterations to the old grocery shop and gave it a new name, Premiata Distilleria G Fabbri. The year was 1905.
One of the first products was a liqueur called 1° Maggio, named for 1 May, Labour Day. The yellow liquer came in a flask-like bottle labelled with an picture of two workers shaking hands, beside them a sickle and a hammer, and behind them the rising sun. 1° Maggio was a well-priced, everyman’s drink celebrating the dawn of a new century. It was followed by an amaro called Carducci and, soon after that, Virov, a yolk-yellow zabaione-like drink made from egg and marsala. Success was swift and, by the early 1920s, Gennaro had taken on a small factory in Bologna.
Rachele Buriani was, by all accounts, every bit as visionary as her husband, Gennaro. It’s a good story: Rachele picked wild sour cherries called amarena that grew in orchards near Bologna, cooked them in copper pans with sugar until sciroppate (meaning “cooked in syrup”), then persuaded her husband that the future was cherries on a larger scale. It’s a neat origin story for Fabbri, too (the distillery was already well established, but never let a date get in the way of a good story).
The couple shared a vision to make products with a broad and democratic appeal, and with a dynamic aesthetic that stood out. Virov, for example, came with a set of matching yellow cups that provided a playful way to serve the drink and served as a reminder never to be without a bottle. And all this at a time when the futurist movement, with its themes of motion, speed and technology, had momentum. Rachele and Gennaro were no doubt in tune with the new interpretations and explosive energy in sculpture, painting, music and architecture, ceramics and gastronomy. The futurist sculptor and ceramicist Riccardo Gatti was commissioned to design the curved, blue-and-white jar for what would become Fabbri’s signature product: deep-purple amarena cherries in syrup that give you ruby lips.
The Fabbri story continues, wonderfully, with a pirate and gelato and five generations. But I am going to stop here, with the jar of cherries sitting on the shelf. And, of course, you can use any cherries in syrup for this week’s recipe, which is a combination of Elizabeth David’s flourless chocolate cake, a torta caprese, Margot Henderson’s brownies and a black forest gateau. Keep all these in mind when you bake (cautiously); it should have a creped top and fudge-like heart.
Rachele, Gennaro and Riccardo Gatti got it right. They created a jar that serves many purposes: it contains the cherries, it’s lovely to serve from and it’s such a beautiful object that you can’t possibly throw it away, so it becomes part of your life as a decoration, vase or pencil pot, forever hinting that another pot of cherries would be nice. The cake is also nice. So nice, in fact, that if all else fails, I might find a small shop with a wine cellar that could be converted into a bakery.
Chocolate, almond and cherry cake
Prep 5 min
Cook 45 min
Makes 10–12 slices
200g butter, diced
200g dark chocolate, finely chopped
150g caster sugar
A jar or tin of cherries in syrup (typically 300g cherries and 600ml syrup)
200g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
In a bowl balanced over a pan of simmering water, melt the butter, chocolate and sugar. Keep stirring and, once melted, lift off and allow to cool for a few minutes.
Add the eggs to the melted mixture one by one, beating well between each addition, then stir in two tablespoons of syrup from the cherry jar, followed by the ground almonds and baking powder.
Scrape the batter into a tin lined with parchment, then press 12 cherries into the batter (keep in mind one per slice). Bake at 170C (150C fan)/gas 3 1/2 for 30-35 minutes or until the cake is just set and with a slightly creped top. Allow to cool completely before lifting out of the tin. Serve in slices with two or three more cherries and little syrup.