Fruit compote — or stewed fruit — is an old-fashioned thing that seems just right for right now.
The first time that I remember eating it, I was at a childhood friend’s house and her mother served it as a side dish. Looking back, it could have been a chew-able cocktail because her secret was to cook the fruit in sugar and water, and then cover it with brandy. It was so potent that it should have come with an age restriction.
But, nonetheless, I never forgot my first taste and the idea of stewed fruit. I love to make all kinds of dried fruit compotes for topping simple desserts—and oatmeal. I think of it as a sweet relish, a condiment that is ready to make a slice of ordinary pound cake, or a bowl of ice cream into a more exciting offering. But that’s not all, my favorite use this time of year is to dress up humdrum bowl of oatmeal. It is a welcome change of pace from bananas and/or raisins.
My favorite combination is dried prunes, apricots and cherries and a tiny bit of minced crystallized ginger. But if you have dried pears, they would be lovely in there as well. This is also a good way to use up all the little bits of dried fruit and raisins that you might have left over from holiday baking.
I season the compote lightly with a touch of nutmeg and vanilla, but a cinnamon stick would be nice if you have one. I also don’t add any additional sugar as I find that dried fruit is sweet enough. If you want to add a little sugar, I would add dark brown sugar to give the compote a deeper sweet flavor. And, as a nod to my friend’s mother, Dottie, I add just a splash of cognac. Just enough to add flavor and enhance the natural fruit flavors but not so much that it becomes “drunken fruit!”
My recipe is for about 3 cups of dried fruit, but you can easily double or triple it, and it stays good in the refrigerator for a very long time. This year, I am going to make a triple batch and fill pint mason jars to give as hostess gifts during the busy holiday season.
DRIED FRUIT COMPOTE
Start to finish: 3 1/2 hours (Active time: 20 minutes)
1 cup filtered water
1 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1/8teaspoon ground nutmeg
Zest of a clementine or half an orange
1 generous cup or an 8-ounce bag of dried plums (prunes)
1 generous cup dried whole apricots
1/2generous cup dried cherries
1 tablespoon minced crystallized ginger, optional
1 tablespoon cognac or Grand Marnier, optional but a very good addition
Bring water, apple cider, vanilla, salt, nutmeg to a boil in a heavy-bottomed 4-quart pot.
Add zest and dried fruit and stir. Bring back to a boil. Place the lid on the pot and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes or until fruit is plump. Add the ginger and cognac if using. Stir and turn off the heat. Let sit for 2-3 hours or until it has cooled to room temperature.
Place fruit and some of the liquid in a mason jar for storing and gift giving. Store in the refrigerator for about 1 month.
Warm slightly before serving over oatmeal, pound cake, ice cream, rice pudding, etc.
Nutrition information per serving: 121 calories; 1 calories from fat; 0 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 36 mg sodium; 30 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 20 g sugar; 1 g protein.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pit master at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including “Taming the Flame.”