My friend Nadine has been in Newfoundland for a few weeks and she kindly offered to let me pick up her CSA last week. She gets a fruit share in addtion to her weekly veggies, so I got sour cherries, red currants and black currants. This is one of the things that I love about getting a CSA: none of these fruits are something that I will typically buy; I like the taste, but not the texture of sour cherries, red currants, as gorgeous and jewel-like as they are, are a bit too sour to eat out of hand, and black currants… well, how often to you see black currants for sale?
Since I only had small amounts of each fruit (a half-pint each of the currants and about a pint of sour cherries), I couldn’t really make a jam or a pie. I thought about mini-tarts, or drying them for granola, or even a fruit leather, but in the end I decided to take the simplest approach: a compote. Compote is simply cooked fruit with a little water and sugar, or, in this case, honey. Most any fruit can be used and there are really no rules: cook it until it looks, and tastes, good to you.
It would be hard to make this recipe much easier; pitting the cherries and stemming the currants is definitely the most labor-intensive part. Once you’ve done that, you are simply heating, stirring and tasting until it is done. As Julia would say “et, voila!” you have compote. What to do with compote you ask? Any number of things. It’s great warm and syrupy over ice cream; it can dress up a store-bought cheesecake or pound cake for a quick dessert or surprise dinner guests. Because this version has a little spice and savory flavor, it can work equally well, once chilled, on a cheese tray, or on a turkey sandwich. I used mine to marinate a roasted turkey breast. So, to recap: compote – easy, quick, versatile and delicious. It’s a win-win-win-win! So now what’s stopping you from picking up some cherries and currants at the next farmer’s market? Nothing – nothing at all.
Currant Sour Cherry Compote
- 1 pint sour cherries, washed, stemmed and pitted
- 1/2 pint red currants, rinsed and stemmed (about 2 cups fruit total, with cherries)
- about 1/4 cup filtered water, or less
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 small green habanero or jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
- pinch of sea salt
- Combine cherries and currants in a small saucepan (I used a 6-inch diameter pan). Add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan to about 1/4-inch; you only want to add enough water to prevent the fruit from sticking and to kick-start releasing the juices from the fruit while heating. Heat over high heat, stirring once or twice, until liquid is boiling. Lower heat to a gentle boil and cook fruit, stirring occasionally, until it begins to thicken, about 10 – 15 minutes. Make sure to stir in the corners and scrape along the bottom of the pan; if the fruit is sticking, lower the heat. (If the heat is as low as it will go and it is still sticking, you’ll have to keep stirring to prevent the fruit from burning). If the cherries are under ripe they may not break down easily and release their juice; if so, you can mash them up a bit, in the pan, with a potato masher.
- Add honey and salt. Stir well and bring mixture back to a boil; reduce heat again and boil gently for about 5 minutes, or until the consistency of the compote is to your liking (I left mine fairly loose, with chunks, but not mounding on a spoon yet). Taste, and add additional honey and/or salt if needed. Allow to come back to a boil; add minced pepper. Raise heat, stirring constantly, to a high boil. Boil hard, stirring, for about 1 minute.
- Remove from heat. Serve warm over ice cream or cheesecake, or allow to cool & thicken in the refrigerator and use as a marinade for meats, a condiment for sandwiches, or a spread for a vegetable and cheese tray.
- If you don’t like the spice of hot peppers you can easily leave them out of this recipe; however, the heat plays nicely off of the sweetness of the honey and the tang of the fruit. Consider substituting about 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper for added interest.
- This is a basic compote recipe that can be used with any fresh, juicy fruit; you may just have to feel you way with some modifications. Strawberries, for example, are very watery and may take longer to cook down; blueberry skins are tough and hang onto their juice and will likely need crushing with a potato masher; raspberries have a lot of seeds – you may want to crush them first and force the puree through a fine sieve before cooking. Feel free to experiment!
Like most jams and fruit preserves, there is no reason that this should not last in the refrigerator for several weeks. If you have sufficient quantity of fruit, this recipe is acidic enough to be canned in a boiling water bath.