Anyone who has waited all year for something will have eyes for it larger than their stomach. It’s truest with stone fruit, lush and velvety. Every year I can be counted on to overspend freely on it, then carry it home in my arms feeling richer than before.
I can also be counted on to forget to bring some kind of sturdy-sided, fruit-protecting container to the market with me, and thus smush half of the fruit halfway to jam in my tote bag on the walk home.
What to do with that kind of bruised and drippy fruit—with seconds if, lucky you, the farmer had some to sell you cheap; or with any super-ripe fruit you have? Compote. Compote!
My love for compote arose out of the smushing problem (Have I learned to bring that container? I haven’t. Don’t be like me!), but it’s also a solution to such “problems” as being overzealous at the U-Pick or needing to finish up what’s in the house before you skip town for summer vacation. It’s the practical answer to passionate fruit-buying. And it’s faster and simpler than making a pie or even a batch of jam—really, it’s jam with less sugar (and without the anxiety of it jelling). And while the recipe below calls for a pound and a half of fruit, you can do it with whatever you’ve got, feeling your way into the right amount of added sweetness. All you have to do is get those pits out, toss with a little sugar, and simmer until saucy.
Speaking of sweetness, the most important thing about making compote is not to over-sweeten. This is fruit at its prime, at its very sweetest! It barely needs any help at all. Nothing sadder than crazy-sweet wild blueberries gone candyish.
The process takes at most half an hour—you can do it while you make your coffee—and I can’t think of a worthier half-hour investment: Going-south fruit finds a home in a sauce that can be eaten with or over anything and freezes beautifully for months and months. As soon as I’ve made a batch, I like to put one jar in the fridge for now and another in the freezer for later, where it waits for me like a prize to find in bleak February. (A frozen jar of summer compote is the best gift.) Stir it into yogurt or hot cereal, spread it jam-style on buttered toast, spoon it over ice cream or into a milkshake. You can even use it as a makeshift pie filling (err on the side of less broken-down and add a couple spoonfuls of cornstarch before pouring it into a crust).
You can just eat the compote, sweet and cold, from the jar with a spoon. It might be my favorite thing to do with it.
Near-Instant Stone-Fruit Compote
Makes about 2 cups
1 ½ pounds ripest stone-fruit (like apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries…), cleaned and pitted, peels left on
¼ cup to ½ cup sugar (or liquid sweetener like honey or maple syrup)
Teeny pinch kosher salt
Herbs, spices, vanilla or almond extract (optional)
Lemon juice to taste (optional)
Flavor suggestions: Apricot and tarragon, cherry and cardamom pods, nectarine and raspberry, peach and rosemary
Cut any fruit larger than a cherry into quarters. Combine in a medium pot with sugar, salt and any herbs or spices (excluding any extracts).
Bring to a hard simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce to a moderate simmer. Stir regularly, gently breaking up large chunks of the fruit with a wooden spoon, until very saucy and fragrant, about 15 to 20 minutes. Continue to simmer if you’d like a thicker, jammier consistency.
Stir in a small splash of any extract, if using, and cool to room temperature. Taste; if it’s straightforwardly sweet, squeeze in a bit of lemon juice.
Pack into clean jars with a tight-fitting lids. Compote will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks and in the freezer for almost eternity.