For the last few weekends I have been a triathlon widow, which has been OK with me because I have had plenty of time to potter about in the kitchen and ponder on what to do with the bounty from our fruit trees.
The usual suspects when it comes to preserving fruit to use through the winter are jams and chutneys. Most years I make plum chutney and I have nothing against a bit of jam but somehow it always seems such a shame to take a super healthy food and to mix it with its weight in sugar. If you want to make your fruit last without adding large quantities of sugar then one answer is to turn it into softly stewed compote and freeze.
Unlike in jam making where the sugar has a central role in preservation, when you freeze fruit the amount of sugar is dictated only by palate, so unless you have a very sweet tooth you can go a lot lower with the sugar than most recipes suggest. I’ve been mulling this over since Heidi’s Plum and Rosewater compote in July (20% sugar to fruit) and more recently Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s article on British plums (25% sugar to fruit) and decided to try my luck at 10% sugar to fruit. This worked out perfectly for my taste buds and is a respectable level of sugar for healthy people to eat as an occasional food (nutrition guidelines suggest that any foods with over 15g of added sugar per 100g be regarded as high in sugar, with 5g or less per 100g considered low).
Despite losing a little bit of certain vitamins compared with eating raw, cooked fruit is a very nutritious food to eat, ‘counting’ towards that five a day while being up there with a ready meal in the convenience stakes. For those of us who like to know these things, a portion of cooked or stewed fruit is three tablespoons. I have a bunch of reusable containers from Lakeland and have frozen my compote in roughly three portion batches so that I can take out one tub a week through the Winter. Our freezer isn’t big enough to store a batch for every week of the Winter but I have stuffed quite a lot in there, largely aided by accidentally leaving the freezer door open a couple of weeks before (I wouldn’t advise this as a strategy, it was quite messy and expensive). There is something very satisfying about having a freezerful of healthy food squirreled away, though as always I’m sure there are pros and cons in the sustainability argument. Freezing fruit will use more energy than traditional preserving methods but for me compote fulfils a completely different space in the diet from jam and I love it that I won’t need to rely so much on imported fruit during the Winter.
I have made two compotes, one from plum and one from apple, but you will probably have your own ideas depending on what fruit you have a glut of or can buy cheaply. I’m pleased with the contrast between these two – one week I will have a gentle, aromatic plum compote perfumed with vanilla and the next week a fresher, chunkier apple compote spiked with a clean rosewater flavour.
You can use the compotes in a myriad of different ways but these are what I have in mind:
- Stirred through hot porridge when the mornings start to turn cold
- Warm or cold alongside low fat organic yogurt as a quick snack or breakfast
- Warmed then poured over a slice of toasted bread or brioche spread with homemade almond butter
- Hot as an accompaniment to custard, rice pudding or ice-cream for a modest pudding
- Blended with milk and yogurt for a quick smoothie or an oat thickie
Neither compote is difficult to make but give yourself an hour each time to allow for prepping the fruit (an easy but repetitive task, fine for doing in front of the TV or in the garden). The apple compote was made from the kind of garden apples that make you wince eaten raw – if you have a sweeter variety you may be able to drop to 5% sugar. Oh and I still have about 100 apples left if anybody has any ideas!
For anybody looking for more general guidelines on freezing a seasonal glut the BBC web site has a good article.
Recipe for Two compote recipes: apple with rosewater and plum with vanilla
Apple compote with rosewater
Inspired by a comment in Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries (note: I like a strong rosewater flavour so add 1 tbsp if you're not so sure)
2.5kg apples (whole weight)
200g sugar (I used organic golden caster sugar)
2 tablespoons rosewater
Squirty lemon juice
Wash the apples well (I dunked mine in a washing up bowl for some time to get all the wildlife out). Roughly peel an apple (missing a bit of peel here and there doesn't matter) and slice large chunks off the apple until you are left with just the core to discard. Throw away any grotty bits as you go. Chop the chunks into large bite sized pieces and repeat until you run out of apples. Put the apples into a large pan as you go, occasionally squirting in a bit of lemon juice and tossing to stop them turning overly brown.
Add the sugar and lemon juice and heat gently for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon (if you have a lot of apples you might need to put a lid on the pan to begin to help the heat permeate through the whole batch). Stop when some of the apple has turned to mush but the largest chunks still have a bit of bite left. Taste for sweetness and add extra sugar if needed. Freeze in batches until required.
Plum compote with vanilla
As suggested by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but with much less sugar
1 vanilla pod
Wash the plums thoroughly. Halve each plum and remove the stone, cutting each half again for the larger plums. Place the plums in a large pan.
Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla pod and put both the seeds and the pod into the pan with the plums. Add the sugar and heat for about twenty minutes until the plums are soft but still retain their shape. Taste for sweetness and add extra sugar if needed. Remove the vanilla pod.
Drain off most of the excess liquid before you freeze but don't throw it away. This part is the cook’s treat and as Hugh says makes a fine plumbena). Freeze in batches until required.