A non-traditional Thanksgiving dessert

These days, alternatives to classic American Thanksgiving foods are available from any number of ethic and national traditions; people recover the beloved foods of their childhood and incorporate them into their holiday food. In a 11/24/11 posting on “Thanksgiving meals” I surveyed a few alternatives from my own history: a tradition of posole (a Mexican hominy stew — in my cooking, made with chunks of pork and no beans, though there are lots of variants), and more recently dim sum at a Palo Alto Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant, and today, back to Mexico at Reposado. (And then there’s Calvin Trillin advocating spaghetti carbonara.)

The classic dessert for Thanksgiving is pumpkin pie, which I have no enthusiasm for. After that, pecan pie, which I adore. And then, I suppose, apple pie, though in this case I prefer elegant French versions over sturdy American ones.

Now for something completely different: dried fruit compôte, intense and easy to cook. Here I’ll reproduce instructions I posted in the newsgroup soc.motss back in 1993; well, the instructions are written in the tone of my smart-ass alter ego, Alex Adams.

An easy and delicious dessert, especially welcome in parts of the year when interesting fresh fruit isn’t available.

Assemble a collection of dried fruit in a saucepan; the last time I made this, I used a half pound of Muscat raisins, a half pound of pitted prunes, a pound of figs (with stems removed, of course), and a pound of apricots. (I like figs a lot, and I like the result to have a deep dark-brown taste to it, but you could vary the ingredients to get other effects.)

Add a teaspoon of nutmeg and a stick of cinnamon (or a teaspoon of powdered cinnamon, but the stick is better) and enough red wine (general rule on selecting wine for cooking: don’t use something you wouldn’t be willing to drink out of a glass. It doesn’t have to be splendid — that would be a waste in a dish like this — but it does have to not be awful) to cover the fruit. Simmer the fruit until the liquid is viscous (20 to 30 minutes, roughly), stirring occasionally to keep the fruit from sticking. remove the cinnamon stick (if you used one; if you used powdered cinnamon, do not try to remove the wee spicy specks) and chill the compôte. (Use a refrigerator: cold glances and ignoring the stuff will not reduce its temperature nearly far enough.)

While it’s chilling, you should have you enough time for a leisurely glass of brandy (or whatever suits you, but we have a use for some brandy anyway, as you’ll see) with an appropriate partner. This would be a good occasion for carnal pleasure; there is no such thing as an overchilled compôte (unless you put it in the freezer; you didn’t do that, you silly person, did you?), so you have all the time you want, even until tomorrow.

Ok, clothing adjusted and hands washed, we are back in the kitchen. Remove the compôte from the fridge and stir in a cup of brandy (or cherry brandy or dark rum or even bourbon — to be really extravgant, use Italian cherries preserved in cherry brandy). If you wish, garnish with slices of kiwi or orange. Serve with whipped cream on top.

Drat! I forgot to mention whipping the cream. I prefer to do this in a large steel bowl, with a wire whisk. I have once, only once, whipped the cream past doneness into butter, and that was when I was demonstrating whisk technique to friends. No disaster; fresh sweet butter is delicious, and you can always whip up some more cream, or, if you’d prefer, eat your fruits without it, as in the photo above.



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