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Guest Post: Cranberry Blueberry Compote from Heather Francis

Today’s guest post is from adventurer and home canner Heather Francis. She is originally from Nova Scotia, Canada but has lived and worked on the ocean for over a decade. A professional cook who’s worked on both land and sea, these days you’ll find her in the galley of Kate, the Newport 41’ sloop she and her Aussie partner, Steve, have been sailing since 2008. They are currently looking for wind in the Philippines. Follow their adventures on Yacht Kate.

I hate store-bought versions of cranberry sauce, you know the ones. They slide out of the can with that sickening “slurp” sound that reminds you of feeding the cat in the morning and stand erect on the plate, wobbling. Or they come in a little jar, have a uniform smooth texture and so much sugar in them they should really be labelled “Cranberry Jam.”

The cranberry sauce that I like is slightly tart and full of fruit, ready to burst on your tongue. It is all about the cranberries, with just hints of other flavours to dress it up for a special occasion. Ideally, I would make it just as I am about to serve it with our holiday feast, and usually there is only just enough for leftovers on Boxing Day.

However, I have spent the last decade sailing in the tropics, not a place where cranberries grow, let alone get shipped. So our holiday roasted chicken (they also don’t grow turkeys in these parts) have been accompanied by a mango chutney. Not at all a bad stand in but not quite what I crave this time a year.

This fall, after five long years, I was lucky enough to make a trip back to Nova Scotia. Not only did I get a chance to catch up with family, but I spent some time at my Mother’s stove making a few batches of seasonal preserves.

Nova Scotia is the “Wild Blueberry Capital of the World” and this year was a bumper crop that lasted well into a very warm September. Two rounds of jam, a few pies and a traditional Blueberry Grunt and the freezer was still overflowing. Then October rolled around, and the first cranberries hit the grocery stores. I jumped at the opportunity to put two of my favourite berries in the same jar.

Ready in less than half an hour this compote is a dressed-up version of the classic cranberry sauce but is simple to put together. You can use fresh or frozen berries and have a light hand with the sugar since cranberries always set so well. I like using the petite 4 oz. jars, they make for a nice gift and are a little easier to fit in your luggage. The addition of almonds and a hefty splash of rum (I am a sailor!) make it feel special enough to add to a cheese board.

I won’t be heading home for the holidays this year, but I will be enjoying a little taste of Nova Scotia with my festive feast in the Philippines. I hope you enjoy it too.

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Plum Conserve with Golden Raisins and Toasted Walnuts

This plum conserve is a condiment that veers a bit of the more commonly tread canning ground. However, once you try it, I’m certain it will become one of your regular pantry players.

A jar of plum conserve with golden raisins and walnts

Italian plums are one of my favorite things to come out of late summer. Sturdy, sweet, and with a flavor that improves upon cooking, they are a fabulous primary ingredient for all manner of jams, spreads, and compotes.

Finished plum conserve in the pot

This particular conserve (it’s the addition of dried fruits and nuts that turn a basic preserve into a conserve) is a good gift giving, serving at holiday gatherings, and eating with a spoon when you’re craving something sweet.

A detailed look at a single jar of plum conserve

I canned my batch in a collection of mismatched pint jars (we’re getting to the end of the canning season and I’m starting to run short on smaller jars), but because a little goes a long way, you’d be better off opting for half pints.

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Honey Sweetened Mixed Fruit Compote

For the last several weeks, I’ve been fully immersed in the end-of-season canning frenzy. This time of year, there’s not a lot of nuance in my preservation activities. I’m simply doing my best to get the food into the jars in the simplest way possible before the produce spoils.

One technique I use a lot this time of year is this one for mixed fruit compote. It’s the thing I call on when there are lots of odds and ends that need to be used up. As long as the fruits you use are all high in acid, you can mix and match as you see fit (this means, skip the white peaches and nectarines, figs, asian pears, mangos).

I use a variety of sweeteners in these compotes, but in this particular variation, opted for honey (mostly because there was a half empty jug on the counter that I wanted to use up). Because this preserve is sloshy by design, I use a fairly low amount of whatever sweetener I’m calling on. Typically, it ends up being a ratio of four parts fruit to one part sweetener.

These are the preserves I call on to sweeten plain yogurt, to wake up hot cereals, and to serve as a fruity layer in baked oatmeal. Gather up the dregs of the stone fruit (this batch included some of my Canbassador nectarines), throw in a few diced pears, use some berries from the freezer, and get to boiling.

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Hot Pack Spiced Cherry Preserves

These spiced cherry preserves are a tasty way to put up this most precious of summer fruit. Sweet, spicy, and tender, they’re a good companion for breakfast, cheese plates, and dessert!

Last Thursday, a big box of sweet cherries arrived from the nice folks from the Northwest Cherry Growers. I’ve slowly been working through them (look for black raspberry and cherry jam, cherry and meyer lemon marmalade, and more coming at you soon) and on Monday night, I used three pounds for my Facebook Live demo.

These preserved cherries (pitted but left whole) are simmered in a syrup that’s been spiced with cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and black peppercorns. They soften and slump, but retain enough texture that they’re a good companion for cheese plates, yogurt parfaits, and damp slices of buttery poundcake. I think you’ll like them!

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Nectarine Conserve with Lemon, Raisins and Walnuts

This nectarine conserve features thin slices of whole lemon, plump golden raisins, and toasted walnuts. Add it to your next cheeseboard!

nectarine-conserve

I firmly believe that conserves are poised for a resurgence in popularity. Much like how old fashioned names are all the rage with today’s parents, conserves represent a bygone age of preserving that is ripe for renewal. Truly, their time has come!

ingredients-for-nectarine-conserve

For those of you not in the know, conserves are typically defined as a soft set jam, with the addition of dried fruit, citrus peel, or nuts. They are good alongside various cheeses, they can enhance cold roast chicken, and they’re delicious stirred into bowls of oatmeal or other warm grain cereals.

sliced-nectarine-for-nectarine-conserve

This particular nectarine conserve was made with some of the fruit that the nice folks from the Washington State Fruit Commission sent me back in August. I realize that waiting this long to share this recipe puts us at the outer edge of nectarine season, but I did spot some at my local farmers market last weekend, so there are still a few to be had (in a pinch, frozen peaches would also work here).

nectarine-conserve-in-the-pot

Like so many of my recipes, this nectarine conserve uses as little sugar as seems reasonable, and tries to be as no-nonsense as possible. I left it relatively unspiced, but next time around, I might add a little freshly grated ginger, or a teaspoon of cinnamon. You can, of course, spice it to your heart’s content.

nectarine-conserve-close-up

Finally, if stonefruit is well and truly gone in your area, consider making this very same recipe with just-ripe pears. The finished preserve won’t have the same vibrancy of color, but will still be quite tasty.

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Small Batch Apple Cranberry Compote

apple cranberry compote side

On Monday night, I did a canning event at the Mullica Hill Library in Gloucester County, NJ. When I was planning out the event with the librarian many months back, I suggested I demonstrate a recipe for apple cranberry compote. It seemed like just the thing for mid-October, what with Thanksgiving and the gifting season rapidly approaching.

The only trouble was at the time, I didn’t actually have an apple cranberry compote recipe in my personal preserve arsenal. I had jams, sauces, and chutneys, but no compotes.

So, with the demo rapidly approaching, I spend a little time over the weekend working one up. It starts with 4 large apples (peeled, cored, and diced), 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries (rinsed and picked over), and 1/2 cup water. You combine those three things in a saucepan, set them over medium-high heat, and simmer them until the cranberries pop and the apple chunks soften.

apple cranberry compote top

Once the fruit is tender and most the water has evaporated, you add 1 cup of granulated sugar, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and the zest and juice of a lemon. You cook for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the compote looses its watery look and the apples can be easily crushed with the back of your spoon.

When you like the consistency, you funnel it into jars, wipe off the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process the closed jars for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. When the time is up, pull the pot off the heat, remove the lid, and let the jars cool gradually for a bit. Depending on how much sugar you use, the yield will be between 3-4 half pints.

This is a highly flexible preserve. You could sweet it with honey instead of sugar (use 2/3 cup). To add a bit more flavor from the start, cook the fruit down in apple juice or cider instead of water. Add some freshly grated ginger, or a bit of cloves for an even more autumnal flavor. As long as you don’t add any low acid ingredients like onions or garlic, you can tweak the spices and liquids as much as you like.

However, even the most simple version is quite delicious.

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