How to Make Compote Without a Recipe

June 16, 2014

Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Transform your season's harvest into a simple, versatile compote, without fancy canning equipment -- and without a recipe.

Compote Not Recipes on Food52

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As a great philosopher (or maybe Shakespeare?) once famously mused: Where does compote end, and jam begin? Simply put, compote is like jam, simplified -- it doesn't need any additional thickeners, and you don't have to tackle that terrifying process known as "canning." At its essence, compote is fruit, broken down with heat -- and with the addition of a few flavorings to sharpen its edges and make it sing.

Besides its utter simplicity, compote's best selling point is its versatility. It can be made with whatever combination of fruits you have in fridge, and it's the highest calling of your bruised, almost over-the-hill market haul. With the addition of heat and a few pantry basics, you can transform any fruit into a thick, spreadable compote in under an hour -- here's how. 

Compote on Food52


1. Choose your fruit! Go with whatever's in season -- we got our hands on some sweet strawberries, but late summer berries, stone fruits, apples, and even eggplant would work as well. And remember: This is a prime opportunity to use bruised specimens: With a little heat, acid, and sugar, the ugly duckling will transform into a beautiful, fruit-laden swan. 

More: Before heading to the farmers market, read this.

Also get out: Some source of acid, such as lemon, lime, or even a splash of vinegar; a sweetener, such as maple syrup, sugar, or honey; a pinch of salt, and anything else you'd like to flavor the compote. I went with vanilla, but cinnamon, cloves, or even a hint of chili would all be great add-ins, depending on the fruit in question. Play around with it until you find a combination that's your jam, pun intended.

Compote without a recipe on Food52


2. Cut off any inedible parts of your fruit (here's what to do with your strawberry tops), zest your citrus, scrape out your vanilla bean, then toss everything into a saucepan. If you want your compote to have a thinner consistency, add in a few splashes of water or juice.

More: Make sure to compost those inedible odds and ends! Here's how.

how to make compote without a recipe on Food52


3. Set the mixture on the stove over low heat, then forget about it. When the heavenly aroma of fresh berry fields comes wafting from your kitchen, give it a stir or two -- it's not needy. Let the fruit break down as much or as little as you like (sometimes I like mine to be more closely akin to fruit swimming in syrup, as in this grits recipe). When the fruit is to your desired level of softness and the whole thing looks glossy, the compote is done. Don't worry if it seems thin -- it will thicken as it cools.

How to Make Compote without a recipe on Food52


4. Give the compote a taste, then adjust the flavorings until sweet, sour, and savory meet in your ideal balance. If you're feeling frisky, feel free to add a splash of bourbon or rum. You could also stir in some chopped, dried fruit for texture. Once it cools, you could also purée the mixture until smooth, thinning it out as needed with water. Pour it over pancakes, or add a splash to brighten up your cocktails.

How to make compote without a recipe on Food52


5. Once it's cool, store your compote in a tightly sealed jar and keep refrigerated for up to two weeks. Spoon it over vanilla ice cream, swirl it into your morning yogurt, and spread it on fat slices of golden challah bread. Lord knows we did.

More: What's your idea of the perfect compote? Do you like it thick and syrupy? Full of fat pieces of rhubarb? Tell us in the comments! 

Photos by James Ransom

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HeatherAnn M. March 14, 2017

here is a great Fruit compote i have found. its already canned and there are no preservatives save the lemon juice ! i ate one and its soooo good. I've never eaten with Challah bread and now i really want to!
Brenda R. August 6, 2015
Can the compote be frozen??
Teresa S. August 7, 2015
I would think there would be no problem freezing this just like freezing any other fruit, especially since it's cooked down.
Teresa S. July 3, 2015
What about black raspberries....I'm wondering about the seeds. Any good way to get them out? Not necessarily all, but the majority?
rofliron January 30, 2015
This is a recipe...
Kristen K. July 4, 2014
I'm going to make a blueberry compote. Can anyone recommend quantities of add ins? Thinking vanilla bean, maple syrup and maybe some lemon rind?
AntoniaJames July 4, 2014
I find that lemon zest can overwhelm blueberries. (I have seventeen prolific blueberry bushes, so I do a lot with blueberries.) A touch maybe. Lots and lots? I recommend restraint. Not sure about the maple syrup. Blueberries really don't need much sweetener. If I were making a compote, I'd use, per pint of berries, 2 tablespoons at most of raw sugar + bay leaf + vanilla bean. People think of bay leaves as savory, but they really are a cross-over herb. I make a bay + vanilla ice cream swirled with bay-scented blueberry sauce, the recipe for which I posted here on Food52. So tasty. ;o) P.S. It may be too late, depending on where you are, but blueberries + cherries makes a dynamite compote. I'd go vanilla, solo.
AntoniaJames July 2, 2014
Someone asked a question about this post on the Hotline, wanting to know whether the compote could be canned. A Food52 staff member responded that it can, and provided a link to the hot water bath processing instructions in another post. I'm intrigued by the response, in light of the standard cautions -- which the author of this post implicitly embraces -- that one must have a certain balance of acidity and sugar in order to ensure a safe, shelf-stable product. Obviously, a not-recipe, little of this, little of that approach is not consistent with that conventional wisdom. What do you think? (I'm going to raise this with MrsWheelbarrow, too, on her equipment/shopping checklist post that appeared on the site today.) ;o) Here is the link to the hotline question: https://food52.com/hotline/25205-what-process-would-be-best-for-canning-the-fruit-compote-recipe-you-ve-posted
LysiaLoves June 23, 2014
I made a gluten-free cheesecake with gingersnap crust and made a spiced peach compote, lightly sweetened with coconut sugar, to go on top. The fresh brightness of the peach mingled with a touch of orange and a teensy pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves was outrageous against the rich, fluffy creaminess of the cake. I didn't use a recipe either - it's one the easiest things to do by taste! I cooked it down really far too, I wanted it to be slightly chunky and sticky syrupy. I was NOT disappointed! I am currently drooling over the image of strawberry compote over golden challah. I mean, it's almost physically painful to look and not eat. Gluten-free challah seems like a mighty task, but one I may have to get up the courage to tackle. Just so I can slather it with strawberry compote! Ooh, or make french toast with it, THEN the compote. OHMYGOSH. I better stop.
Joyce June 23, 2014
can you use frozen fruit? I shop the Farmer's Market and always buy too much so I have lots of berries, cherries and figs inmy freezer.
LysiaLoves June 23, 2014
I have! Just don't defrost the fruit first. When I've used frozen sliced peaches they worked much better still frozen. I dumped the fruit, no extras, into my saucepan, cover it and cook it on low. Once it's defrosted, follow the rest of the instructions on adding ingredients, cooking down, etc.
Steven M. June 16, 2014
I use Truvia or Splenda, in lieu of sugar.
Pegeen June 16, 2014
Would Merrill's tip to add a knob of butter be appropriate?
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Catherine L. June 17, 2014
LysiaLoves June 23, 2014
I think a knob of butter is appropriate in most situations ;)