27 Mar Cômpotes of Fruit
Cômpotes of Fruit
Tuesday, 01 March 2011
Written by Sunday Relish (Elizabeth Peddey), King’s Tribune, March 2011
Reprinted with kind permission of King’s Tribune editors.
In her 1845 cookery book – Modern Cookery for Private Families, Eliza Acton describes fruit cômpotes as ‘delicate and agreeable preparations’. She recommends the cômpote to readers ‘already acquainted with them and to those whom may have a distaste to the common stewed fruit of English cookery.‘
Today, a carefully prepared compôte remains something we marvel at but are at a loss as to how to prepare. Many of the simple recipes for fruit cômpotes were superseded sometime in the middle of the twentieth century by those who like to complicate everything with such innovations as cooking fruit with lemonade or pear juice or artificial sweeteners. Stewed within an inch of their lives, these offerings doled out sans ceremony with a scoop of the ubiquitous commercially made ice cream were the standard finale to many a midweek dinner in middle Australia.
A carefully made compôte will be as Acton described with her wonderful use of language ‘peculiarly delicious and refreshing, preserving the flavours of the fruit of which they are composed.’ The natural acidity of these fruits are tempered with the small quantity of water added to form the syrup in which it is boiled. While almost any fruit can be converted into a good compôte, as summer turns into autumn, fruit such as peaches, berries, plums and rhubarb are at their best and make an excellent breakfast or dessert dish.
Eliza Acton reminded readers of the economy and wholesomeness of a compôte compared to tarts and puddings. I cannot recommend the compôte highly enough. Try it in the morning served with a creamy natural yoghurt, as a dessert with thick, fresh cream or as a luxurious snack during the day.
Select only the best quality, ripened fruit to make a compôte. Cook the fruit in a large enough pan which can comfortably contain all of the fruit. I use an eight litre copper preserving pan. Stainless steel or an enamelled pan of roughly this size are also suitable.
Compôtes will keep for up to five days or so when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The sugar increases the transparency of the fruit and produces juices which are beautifully clear. To show off this effect compôtes should be served in glass dishes or if you are lucky enough to get your hands on one, a compôtier, created especially for the serving of compôtes from the table. In her Obs following her recipes, Eliza Acton notes that the proportion of sugar given is for the fruit of a warm, dry, summer when fruit ripens freely and is rich in quality. A cold or wet season however would make necessary increased quantities of sugar. I recommend that you experiment with this and cook ‘to-taste’.
‘The Compôtier’ is the subject of the painting, by Paul Cezanne (1879 – 1882).
Compôte of Rhubarb
1 bunch of rhubarb
150 ml water
150g sugar (or up to 180g for more acidic fruit)
A large, shallow pan, big enough to contain all of the fruit comfortably
A paring knife
A glass bowl or compôtier
Wash the rhubarb, trim the ends and remove any rough sections on the stalks. Using a paring or small knife, strip any loose string from the stems
Cut the stalks into short lengths, approximately 6cm
Gently boil the water with the sugar for 10 minutes, stirring the sugar to dissolve.
Add the trimmed rhubarb, cover and simmer for about another 10 minutes. This will vary in accordance with the thickness of the stems.
When it is cooked, the stems will have completely disintegrated into a puree of fruit or will pull apart very easily with a fork. You will have brilliant coloured juices which amalgamate into the puree.
Compôte of Damsons
500g Damson plums
A large, shallow pan, big enough to contain all of the fruit comfortably (I use an 8 litre copper preserving pan. Stainless steel or an enamelled pan are also excellent.)
Fine wire strainer
An elevated wire (cake) rack
A glass bowl or compôtier
Gently boil the sugar and the water together, stirring for 10 minutes to dissolve the sugar
Add the whole washed damsons and cover; simmer gently for another 10 – 12 minutes
Remove the cooked plums with a slotted spoon and place on an elevated wire rack to cool over a basin.
As soon as you are able, slip the skins from the fruit and arrange the fruit in a glass bowl, strain the juices using a fine strainer. When cool cover and refrigerate.
Serve cold from a compôtier.
This excellent cold dessert is a welcome favourite. I have given quantities for 10 because not only is it perfect for large numbers ( as it can be made in advance) but because it is just as good the next day. The recipe is adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1. Frozen raspberries can be used but they do not make as thick a sauce as the fresh ones.
1275 ml water
500g caster sugar
1 vanilla bean
10 firm, ripe, unblemished peaches
500g fresh raspberries OR 750g frozen raspberries, thawed and drained
2 ½ tablespoons icing sugar
2 tablespoons kirsch (optional)
Fresh mint leaves, optional
A pan large enough to accommodate all of the peaches
A slotted spoon
A cake rack
A glass bowl or compôtier large enough to hold all of the peaches
Bring the water, sugar and vanilla bean in a saucepan to a gentle simmer, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Continue simmering for 10 minutes.
Add the unpeeled peaches to the simmering syrup. Return the syrup to simmering point and maintain just below a simmer for 8 minutes, turning the peaches gently in the syrup. Firmer peaches may require a little longer.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow the peaches to cool in the syrup for 20 minutes (the syrup may be used again for poaching other fruits)
Lift the peaches with a slotted spoon and Drain them on the cake rack over a clean bowl
Peel the peaches while they are still warm and arrange them in the serving dish or bowl.
Chill in the refrigerator
Force the raspberries through a sieve and place the puree in the jar of a blender with the icing sugar and kirsch. Cover and blend at top speed for 2 – 3 minutes, or until the puree is thick and the sugar has completely dissolved.
Using a spatula, scrape the puree into a bowl and chill in the refrigerator.
When both the puree and the peaches are chilled, pour the puree over the peaches and return to the refrigerator until serving time.
Decorate with optional fresh mint leaves.