This tastes like Christmas, although I definitely wouldn’t save it just for the coldest moments of the year. Simmering fragrant quinces and perfumed pears in a cranberry syrup, rich with warming spices and scented like mulled wine, gives them a luscious, melting tenderness. Add some tart, bouncy dried cranberries you have a wonderful textured mass of sweetness and spice. The colours are muted, but beautiful in their own right: deep amber, dusky pink, ochre-tinged cream, a tangle of tender poached fruits, occasionally punctuated with the ebony blade of a star anise or shard of cinnamon quill.
This isn't a bowl of robust, punchy flavours to wake up your winter-addled tastebuds, but rather a quiet celebration of the benefits bestowed upon orchard fruits by bathing them in spiced syrup, transforming their glassy flesh to butter-soft tenderness with little more than the stir of a wooden spoon and a pilfering of the spice cupboard. It's a lighter, sweeter, fresher version of all the sugary dried fruit concoctions that abound at this time of year.
I like this spooned over a bowl of slightly salted porridge, but it would also be good with ice cream or crème fraiche as a dessert. If you don’t have quinces, you can just double the amount of pears.
Spiced quince, pear and cranberry compote (makes 6 servings):
(Adapted from Diana Henry's A Change of Appetite)
- 500ml cranberry juice
- 100ml water
- 80g light muscovado sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 cloves
- 1 star anise
- Three strips of orange zest
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 quinces, peeled, quartered and core removed
- 3 large firm pears, peeled, quartered and core removed
- 150g dried cranberries
Put the cranberry juice, water, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and orange peel powder into a large, wide saucepan and gently bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the quinces and lemon juice, then simmer gently, uncovered, for around 15 minutes or until the quinces are just tender. Add the pears and cook for another 15 minutes, or until just tender. Add the cranberries for the last five minutes of cooking time, allowing them to swell up in the liquid. Taste – you may want to add a little more sugar.
Leave to cool before serving (it keeps well in the fridge).