A Taste of Poland: Recipes for Fresh Fruit Compotes

The French invented compote, but Ashkenazi Jews made it a dessert for the ages.

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Polish compote
Polish compote Credit: Limor Laniado Tiroche

Compote of fresh fruit cooked in sugar syrup is a classic European dessert. The French introduced compote to the world - they believed fruit cooked in sugar syrup balanced the effects of humidity on the body. The name derives from the French word composte - mixture. Unlike jam or preserves, compote is cooked in water or wine and served in its own liquid.

In the beginning, compote was served as an interim meal in the afternoon with sour cream and biscuits. Later, during the Renaissance, the main version more closely resembled the modern one: well chilled at the end of dinner.

Compote soon became popular throughout Europe, especially in Germany. The ease, the readily available inexpensive ingredients and the absence of dairy products led Jews to eagerly adopt the dessert. Its reputation spread to Jewish communities throughout Europe until compote became considered a Jewish dessert.

Fall is an ideal time to make compote from summer fruits going out of season. Winter compote is different: It is served hot and is usually made from dried presoaked fruit, spices and chopped nuts.

Compote of wine, tea and cherry plumsCredit: Limor Laniado Tiroche

Any fruit you choose will be suitable for the task on its own or in various combinations: apples, pears, cherries, plums, peaches, nectarines or grapes. You can also combine fresh fruit with dried fruit such as raisins, prunes, apples and nuts.

Polish Jews are meticulous about cooking each fruit according to its rate of softening. Apples and pears go first into the bubbling pot. Once they have softened they are joined by the other fruits, which need less time to cook. Compote is best served either hot or very cold, with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream.

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Polish compote

Ingredients (6 servings):

1 liter water

1 cup sugar

4-cm ribbon of lemon peel

1 kilogram summer fruit, e.g. 2 ripe pears peeled and quartered, 1 apple peeled and sliced into eighths, 2-3 yellow peaches pitted and sliced into eighths, 2-3 nectarines pitted and quartered, 4 plums pitted and sliced into eighths, 50 grams raisins

Preparation:

In a big pot bring water, sugar and the lemon peel to boil. Add apples and pears and cook for 15 minutes on a gentle boil. Add the rest of the fruit and raisins and cook for another 10 minutes. Serve hot or very cold.

Compote of plums in red wine & tea

Ingredients (6 servings):

20 pitted prunes (130 grams)

1 cup boiling water

1 cup red wine

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon allspice berries

1/2 cup sugar

4-cm ribbon of lemon peel

2 Earl Grey tea bags

4-6 plums pitted and sliced into eighths

Preparation:

Soak the prunes for 30 minutes in a cup of boiling water. Drain and keep the liquid.

In a big pot, bring to a boil the liquid from the prunes, wine, spices, sugar, lemon peel and the tea bags. Add the prunes and plums and cook for 15 minutes on a gentle boil. Serve hot or very cold with a dollop of tart yogurt or sour cream.

Italian quince compote

Ingredients (6 servings):

1 kilogram quince

1/2 lemon

4 cups water

1/2 cup sugar

3 cups dry white wine

1 cinnamon stick

4-cm ribbon of lemon peel

Preparation:

Use a clean scouring sponge to remove the remaining gray-brown down from the quince skin (most of it falls off when the fruit ripens), slice into quarters and sprinkle with lemon juice.

Place the quince wedges in a medium pot with four cups of water, bring to a boil and cook uncovered for 15 minutes.

Take the quince slices out with a slotted spoon and leave to cool in a colander. Pit, peel and slice each quarter in half.

Meanwhile, continue cooking the liquid in the pot until it is reduced to two cups. Add sugar, wine, cinnamon stick and lemon peel. Bring to a boil.

Add the quince eighths and cook on a medium fire uncovered for two hours. Stir occasionally to keep the quince from sticking to the bottom.

Serve hot or very cold with a dollop of tart yogurt or sour cream.

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