Spiced Fruit Compote

An easy-to-make and healthy recipe.

I don’t know about you but I am over the holiday sugar fest of endless cookies, fudge, and cakes. But a unique dessert after a holiday meal is a welcomed and rare tradition in my home so I like to explore recipes each year to find one that is seasonal, locally sourced, easy to make, and flexible in its use.

I live in a region surrounded by hundreds of orchards and each year, I dehydrate many apples, pears, and cherries. Many of the orchards store some of their harvested apples and pears in cold storage throughout winter, selling them locally. 

Seasonal and locally-sourced – check.

Apple strudel is a classic holiday dessert in the winter.
Apple strudel is a classic holiday dessert in the winter.
PHOTO: Image by RitaE from Pixabay

Apple and pear strudel is a traditional European dessert but too much work for me during the holidays. While researching fruit desserts, I came across a recipe for fruit compote, also called stewed fruits. Compote sounds so much better than stewed fruit, don’t you think? That’s because the word compote is French for ‘mixture’ and is the root word for compost. 

Wait…scratch that last image.

Cooking fruit in a sweetened syrup is an old cooking technique, likely created to use up old and rotting fruit. The simple process is found in almost all cuisines. Believed to have originated during the late medieval era in Europe, it became a popular food for European Jewish households because of its simplicity: a few ingredients, no dairy, and easy to prepare.

What I love most about this simple concoction is its adaptability: pick and choose your fruits, flavorings, and uses.

Let’s start with ingredients.

Fruit compotes can be made with fresh, frozen, and dried fruits. Use fresh fruits during summer and autumn and frozen and dried fruits during winter and spring. A compote can be just one fruit or a blend of several. Here’s my list of seasonal pairings using fresh or frozen (no need to thaw) fruit:

  • Strawberries & rhubarb
  • Cherries & blueberries
  • Raspberries & peaches
  • Pears & blackberries
  • Apples & cranberries
  • Mixed trio of berries
  • A little bit of sweetener is added: white or brown sugar, powdered stevia, pure maple syrup, date syrup or honey
  • A bit of salt for enhanced flavor

Other optional flavors:

  • Freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice (add a splash or two after cooking)
  • Spices in a tea bag: cinnamon stick, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, star anise (cook with fruit)
  • Vanilla extract (add a small splash after cooking)
  • Chopped fresh herbs like mint, basil, lemon balm (added after cooking)
  • Balsamic vinegar (a splash after cooking)
  • Ground spices like cinnamon or ginger (¼ teaspoon before cooking – go gentle, powerful spices)

How to Make Fruit Compote

  • Peel, core and dice fruit if necessary. One pound of fruit will yield about 2 cups of compote.
  • Place in a saucepan. 
  • Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar, honey or syrup.
  • Add a dash of salt and other flavorings you desire.
  • Bring to a boil using medium heat and stirring regularly.
  • Once boiling, reduce to a simmer. If desired, mash some of the fruit with a fork.
  • Simmer for 5-7 minutes and remove from heat. Fruit should be softened and hold most of its shape, surrounded by a slightly thick fruit syrup. Avoid overcooking.
  • Allow to cool a bit before serving. Or serve chilled.
  • Store covered in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Dried fruits can also be used to make compote and I think they are ideal for spices and the winter holidays. Ideally, you want to use fruits that you have dried yourself. Many commercial dried fruits are overly sweetened and treated with sulfur dioxide – a toxic gas that is a byproduct of the fossil fuel industry – to prevent discoloration and rotting. Most organic brands will be free of synthetic chemical preservatives but read the labels to be sure. According to the World Health Organization, there is some evidence that sulfite preservatives are potentially dangerous for children with asthma.

Jars of dried fruits
Dried fruits
Image by CSU-Extension from Pixabay 

Suggested Dried Fruit for Compote

  • Apples & Pears
  • Plums & Prunes
  • Cherries, cranberries, berries
  • Raisins
  • Apricots & Peaches
  • Figs & Dates

To rehydrate the fruits, recipes use the following liquids:

  • Water
  • Apple juice
  • Red or white wine
  • Port or dessert wine

A sweetener can be added but if using a port or dessert wine, you can skip it.

Spices are the most common flavorings: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, star anise, and vanilla. Citrus zest can help to cut some of the sweetness.

Below is the recipe I developed, incorporating both dried and fresh fruit nestled in a spice-infused syrup. Perfect for a light winter dessert.

Spice-infused Winter Fruit Compote

Spice-infused winter compote
Spice-Infused Winter Compote Photo: SK
INGREDIENTS

½ cup honey

½ cup water

½ cup sweet vermouth, dessert wine, or a sweet white wine

1 tablespoon peeled & chopped fresh ginger

4 cinnamon sticks or ½ cup cinnamon chips, lightly crushed by a knife blade or rolling pin (do not use ground cinnamon)

2 Star anise (optional)

4 cloves

½ vanilla bean, finely chopped or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 teaspoon fresh orange zest 

1 teaspoon cardamom pods, lightly crushed

Combine all of the above ingredients in a large saucepan. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let steep overnight, leaving spices in.

The next day, strain the syrup and return to the pot.

(I reuse the spices to make a small jar of spiced honey.)

Add to the syrup:

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice 

¼ cup of dried fruit, cut into small pieces (I used plums and apricots.)

Warm slowly on a low setting until the dried fruit is rehydrated.

Add:

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced

3 red Anjou pears, peeled and diced

1 cup of thawed or fresh cranberries (or use dried)

Stir until all fruit is coated with some of the syrup. Cover and cook on low until the fruit is al dente. Do not overcook. 

Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks (but it won’t last that long).

How To Use Fruit Compote

Breakfast: as a topping for pancakes, waffles, and oatmeal

Snack: Mix with yogurt and sprinkled with nuts

Appetizer: serve with cheese & crackers or a warmed Brie 

Dessert: as a topping for ice cream, custard, pound cake, shortbread, cheesecake

Alone topped with whipped cream or Greek yogurt.

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