Fruit compotes put sweet touch on High Holy Day meal

A festive meal is an essential component of Rosh Hashanah.

It’s traditional to serve sweetened foods for this holiday at which honey and harvest are synonymous with wishes and hopes for a zeisen yar (Yiddish for a sweet year).

And there’s one dessert that’s on every holiday table.

Sitting in its footed dish of the same name, this sweetened, slow-cooked fruit is the ubiquitous Jewish holiday dessert. And recipes are as varied as the types of fruits used in this stewed concoction.

If you haven’t guessed, this famous side dish or dessert is fruit compote.

There’s really no religious reason that compote is omnipresent on the Rosh Hashanah table, and nobody really knows the origin of the dish. It’s easy to surmise, however, that in the days before adequate refrigeration, cooks gathered fruits of the harvest and cooked them with sweeteners, spices and sometimes wine or liqueur. This method preserved the fruit for much longer than fresh fruit would last, and it allowed for canning.

There’s another reason stewed, syruped fruits often are a dessert of choice in observant Jewish households. Because of its neutral (neither milk nor meat) ingredients, compote is usually decreed permissible to eat with any meal, according to the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut.

Compotes are traditionally served with honey cake at the end of the Rosh Hashanah meal. It’s a sweet way to wish l’shana tovah, happy New Year, to all who celebrate.

Bertha Cohen’s Dried Fruit Compote | Serves 12

4 cups whole dried fruits, such as prunes, pears, apricots, raisins, dried cherries (no dates or figs)
1 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
grated rind from 1 orange or lemon

In a medium saucepan, place the dried fruit of choice. Add enough cold water to cover the fruit. Stir in the sugar, add cinnamon sticks and the grated lemon rind. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover with a tight-fitting lid, reduce the heat to low and cook the fruit for about one hour or until the fruit is plumped.

Transfer the fruit and syrup to a plastic, glass or ceramic bowl and allow the compote to cool completely before serving.

This recipe may be made ahead of time and kept, refrigerated, for up to two weeks.

Orange, Peach and Dried Cranberry Compote |Serves 8 to 12

1/2 cup orange marmalade
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups orange juice
2 pounds unpeeled peaches, cut into chunks
4 seedless oranges, peeled and sectioned (most of the pith removed)
1 1/2 cups sweetened dried cranberries or cherries
1 tsp. dried thyme, or 1 Tbs. fresh thyme
3 to 4 Tbs. orange liqueur, or to taste (optional)

In a large saucepan, whisk together the marmalade, sugar and orange juice. Add the peaches, oranges, cranberries, thyme and if desired, the liqueur. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook the compote, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool and refrigerate until ready to eat.