A low sugar way to preserve fruit: Plum and Apple freezer compotes

by sophie on September 18, 2007 · 28 comments

Post image for A low sugar way to preserve fruit: Plum and Apple freezer compotes

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

plums in a bowl
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

2kg plums
200g 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.


Anh September 18, 2007 at 13:51

Sophie, thanks so much for introducing these recipes to us! Lower sugar in preserves is what I have been looking for!

Wendy September 18, 2007 at 21:34

There’s snow on the mountains up here already so I’ve started my porridge eating already! Really like this idea and am looking forward to trying it out.

johanna September 18, 2007 at 23:05

i always use minimal sugar in compote and jam… tastes so much more of fruit!!! i am glad you didn’t do a real freezer jam, the one i tried last year was a complete disaster. you just have to cook jam. full stop.

denise July 29, 2008 at 02:31

i just made some plum preserves and even after cutting the sugar by half i still found it to be too sweet. i’ll cut it way back next time. i love your ideas for the use of your compotes, especially the “thickie” (i love the name)! excellent post!

Sadie September 2, 2009 at 12:42

I too am a triathlon widow, as I type this my other half is doing a pedal powwer challenge from Lands End to John O’Groats, they are doing it in 10 days, so plently of free time.
I found this post while browsing what to do with all the plums from our tree & as I type this the plums & sugar are slowly becoming a compote ready to put into the freezer.
Thank you x

Hatice January 21, 2011 at 04:00

Thank you Sophie,
I always look for ideas on how to preserve the fruit from my garden and sometimes I try my own ideas to make low sugar preserves. Last year I prepared my plums and apricots to preserve, the same way as you do. I then put 1 cup of sugar for 2 kg. of fruit to boil with about a half cup of water and a dash of lemon juice. After boiling for about 5 minutes, I then poured the hot plums in sterelized jars with metal lids, poured enough juice to cover the top, and covered with lids immediately. As the preserve cools it seals itself. I then kept the jars on the shelf in a cool place. I refrigerate the leftovers when I open a jar.
My compotes lasted more than a year but the top part of some jars got discoloured after a while. I do not know why? Do you have any ideas as to why discolouration occured? How can it be prevented. Some people say it is OK to eat those but I am not sure. Hatice.

sophie January 24, 2011 at 19:08

Hi Hatice – I must admit I’m not a preserving expert so I’m not sure what might be causing your discolouration. It might be worth checking out the National Center for Home Food Preservation site for ideas: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/index.html

Mel August 10, 2011 at 08:44

I love finding easy low sugar ways to preserve fruit. I love jam but it’s really so different and I often just want the fresh fruity flavor. My favourite way to preserve strawberries is to slice them, macerate them in a tablespoon of sugar, then freeze. I’ll definitely be using these compote recipes in the next few weeks.

Elida September 1, 2011 at 11:23

I have been looking for recipes for plums as I have been given perhaps 4kg of lovely plums and some apples. I try very hard in keeping a low sugar diet so I’m intending to make this compotes later on!! Thank you.

Bianchi September 26, 2011 at 16:02


Just can’t wait to try this method out. thnakyou so much. Very useful!

Priya September 27, 2011 at 20:47

Tried the apple recipe – love it!! Really pleased there is a healthier way to preserve a bumper crop.

lesley rosinsky June 17, 2012 at 10:17

do the plums need to be cooked before they are frozen?
I have a tree with small, sweet, very soft plums and I would like to peel, stone and freeze the plums.

sophie June 21, 2012 at 18:43

Hi Lesley,

I usually cook plums before I freeze them as the texture can go a bit ‘mealy’ if you freeze them fresh. Not disastrously so (I’ve made crumbles from them), but they’re a bit nicer if you cook them first.

Elie August 22, 2014 at 23:53

take your plums, cut in 1/2, remove the pit, put in a pot and cook until soft, add maple syrup to
taste for sweetness, and 1 – 3 tblsp. of chia seeds. Add lemon juice if needed. Put in jar and use
on toast or ice cream or whatever. Should keep for 1 – 2 weeks ?? delicious. Can do this with
rhubard and also strawberries.

Elie August 22, 2014 at 23:55

Take your plums, cut in 1/2, remove pit, put in freezer bag and freeze for the winter. Put in
smoothies or whatever all winter and taste summer.

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Helen Playdon August 12, 2017 at 19:50

I use no sugar at all. Simply put the plums in a large glass chicken roaster, with 1 Tbsp of water or juice, then cover and put in low over for two hours. After the first batch there is no need to add the liquid as I ‘carry over’ from the earlier batch. We eat this with a spoonful of Greek style ginger yoghourt which has just enough sweetness to take away the sharpness of the (so far) under-ripe fruit.

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