The Auntie Em’s Cookbook: Recipe #2–Pear & Cranberry Compote

Lovely, warm-gray floors stretch from wall to wall in our house.

We’ve had them for three weeks, and their very existence still feels like a miracle.

I like to walk on the floors barefoot. I like to shuffle across them in my cupcake slippers. I like to vacuum them. I like to stare at their fake, knotted wood patterns. I don’t even mind—too much—the way they gently slope and dip with all the slopes and dips of our crooked, hillside, no-straight-lines-about-it old house.

We dragged a few pieces of furniture back inside right away: the rolling kitchen cabinet that serves as an island, a mini cart that houses a few tall appliances and our baking drawer (measuring spoons, wooden spoons, some scone and cookie cutters). These additions alone make our house feel cozier—and the prospect of cooking appealing once again.

Last week I pulled The Auntie Em’s Cookbook off the shelf and leafed through it in search of something easy and tasty. I landed on Pear & Cranberry Compote, which seemed both seasonally spot-on and delicious to boot.

The recipe appears in the fall section of the book, includes a colorful, up-close photo of the compote in a little glass dish, and is introduced with Terri’s no fuss comments. “I love keeping this compote around,” she writes, “especially in fall. It’s lovely with yogurt, cottage cheese, toast, ice cream, and many desserts.” Ok, then! Let’s make it.

Jon, Roxy and I swung by Whole Foods after a quick dinner out so I could grab a few ingredients for the compote, as well as another recipe. Once home, and after a game of multiplication “war” with Rox, I dove into the prep. First, I washed, peeled and diced the two Bosc pears I’d picked out. They weren’t as ripe as I hoped, but they would do. Because I only had two, which weighed in at a pound, I had to settle for making a third of the recipe (it calls for 3 pounds of ripe pears). Welcome to Kitchen Math 101.

Along with the diced pear, I poured 2/3 cup fresh cranberries and four teaspoons of fresh squeezed orange juice into a saucepan and put it on a burner to boil. Almost immediately, everything was bubbling, so I quickly lowered the burner to its tiniest flame and, per the instructions, let the mixture simmer for about an hour. I had to stir and scrape the bubbling goo periodically, and even add some water to keep it from burning. Would riper pears have given off more juice?

Once the cranberries had split open and the pears softened, I removed the pan from the burner. The recipe says to mush the ingredients with a potato masher, but we don’t have one so I tried, unsuccessfully, to do the deed with a wooden spoon. Next, I added some sugar, a halved and scraped vanilla bean, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg and put the saucepan back on the burner, this time on medium, so the compote could cook for a final five minutes.

The results: We didn’t have any vanilla ice cream, yogurt or cottage cheese in the house, and toast felt a little strange at 9 p.m., so I spooned the compote into mini ramekins and handed one to Jon.

“What do you think?”

He took a bite. “The pears are still a little firm, but the flavor’s really good.”

Indeed it was—which shouldn’t have been surprising. Aren’t cranberries and pears the Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire of the fruit universe? That zingy-tart cranberry and mellow pear earthiness work perfectly together, especially when warmed by a cinnamon spiciness. This compote’s colors are beautiful, too—wine-dark magenta, syrupy yellows and tree-bark browns.

The stuff would be amazing spread on any manner of unsuspecting substrates: angel food cake, biscuits, even fish or—hello, November—turkey, I’d imagine. If you’ve got leftover cranberries from yesterday’s Big Feast, this would be an easy way to (beware the holiday pun!) gobble them up.

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