Late in the winter, before the first ripe berries appear, and way before the peaches and plums of summer, sweet fruit seems far off. Even oranges' best time has passed. But it's an opportunity in disguise: this is when we turn to the quiet pleasures of stewed fruit.
It doesn't have quite the same ring as fresh apricots and pears, does it? Stewed fruit. How can it even compare? Well, perhaps we can persuade you.
Stewed fruit recipes were very common in the past, before enhanced storage facilities and techniques. You couldn't buy fruit year-round, so you dried as much as you could and found other ways to plump it up throughout the winter.
Drying fruit also has an intensifying effect. We love sweet and juicy summer plums, but when they are dried into prunes, their natural tannins and dark flavors get intensified into something more complex and interesting. The same goes for apricots, raisins, cranberries, cherries, and other dried fruits. Stewing these fruits lets you enjoy all that rich flavor.
Stewed fruit, in our modern time, can also draw on frozen and preserved fruit. We love making pancake sauces out of frozen peaches and berries; they aren't as good as fresh fruit for some things, but they're just as good for cooked sauces.
And stewed fruit, finally, is perhaps the best way to use up all of that fruit you've hoarded all winter. We have a dozen apples left from our autumn picking excursions, and while they're still good, they're not so crisp and fresh anymore. We've been using them up in chunky applesauce and cake fillings. We also found some very overripe quince at the grocery store for cheap. We snatched them up and made a stewed quince sauce for oatmeal, with a few plumped-up dried tart cherries.
So enjoy the dried and preserved fruits while you can — before the fresh spring and summer fruit comes along and steals the show. Make up a mess of stewed prunes, applesauce, chunky peach pancake topping, or a sweet coulis. Pour it over a cake, yogurt, oatmeal, or toast. Dip in with a spoon and remember how good summer fruit can taste.
Here are a few recipes we especially enjoy.
• DIY Applesauce
(Image: Faith Durand)