Heirloom Apple Compote

There’s no fruit better known than the apple, but like so many of our modern fruits and vegetables at the supermarket, we don’t get quite as wide a variety as was available in more agrarian times.  Modern agriculture has focused on large, hardy fruits that can be grown in fast, high-yield quantities and then shipped for lengthy shelf storage worldwide.  And while that method of farming has its advantages – oranges in the dead of winter come to mind – modern breeds tend to lack a lot of the character and unique flavor possessed by older breeds.  Recent years have seen a great upswing in niche farmers trying to save these older “heirloom” breeds, and the result has been the proliferation of fruits, vegetables, and even meats from species that our ancestors once found commonplace.  We like to try these different heirloom species whenever we can find (and afford) them, so we were very excited when our local Whole Foods put three different heirloom apple breeds on sale:  Ananas Reinette, which looks like miniature Golden Delicious apples and has a sweet taste reminiscent of pineapple; Blue Permain, a mild, sweet apple with dense flesh that is said to have been one of Thoreau’s favorite apples; and our favorites, Lamb Abbey, tart and crisp with just the right amount of juicy sweetness.  With such a variety of flavors and textures available, I figured that the best way to use all these apples to my advantage was to cook them down into a compote, and we were pretty happy with the results.

Heirloom Apple Compote

  • 1 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon brandy
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 4 cups diced apples.  We used a mix of the heirlooms we bought above, but you can easily make this with a mixture of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples (keeping those sour Grannies to a minimum).

Combine the water, sugar, brandy, vanilla bean, and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Boil gently for 5-7 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture thickens a little.  Add the apples, stirring to coat, and bring the mixture back to a boil.  Turn the heat down and simmer the mixture for 20-25 minutes, until the apples start to break down and a thick syrup is formed.  Let the apples cool to room temperature – slow cooling will allow the pectin from the fruit to thicken nicely.  Serve with pork, over ice cream – or as we’ve done here, over some French toast.  Enjoy, and for more apple info, check out this excellent blog.


5 thoughts on “Heirloom Apple Compote

  1. That seems like a surprisingly simple dish to make. I might have to try it as a way to use up all the apples thrown at us for Christmas this year. I do so tire of apple pie over and over…

    • It’s extremely easy, and if you have a lot of oranges left over from Christmas, too – throw a couple of large strips of orange peel in with the water and spices in the first step. Adds an interesting twist to the flavor.

  2. I enjoyed your intro giving us some background on produce species and why we don’t see as many these days. A friend of mine works the produce dept. at Whole Foods, and he was telling me about all the apples they’re getting in. Imma need to go try some of these you mentioned. I’m a big Thoreau fan, so whatever he ate, I’m down.

    • As of the other day, they were only $1.99 per pound (!!!) which is only a few cents more than the regular old apples at Kroger or Food Giant. The Lamb Abbey apples were the best, and if you like Fujis or Honeycrisps, go for those. The other two were a tad bit mealy for my taste but the flavors were great. Plus, those mealy apples add a nice bit of thickness to the compote, so it was worth it.

  3. Great post! Will definitely make this to go with the reibekuchen that I’m thinking of trying after eating them in Germany.

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