Mary J. Lincoln, on Making ‘Compote of Apples’

Make a syrup with one cup of sugar, one cup of water, and a square-inch of stick cinnamon. Boil slowly for ten minutes, skimming well. Core and pare eight or ten tart apples ; cook till nearly done in the syrup. Drain, and cook them a few minutes in the oven. Boil the syrup till almost like a jelly. Arrange the apples on a dish for serving. Fill the core cavities with jelly or marmalade. Pour the syrup over them. Put whipped cream around the base, and garnish the cream with jelly.

Mary J. Lincoln, Mrs Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book (1891 edition)

A few historical orchard recipes ago, I got sniffy about an “apple porridge” recipe that I was pretty sure was a compôte by any other name. However, it seems I may have been hasty, as the compôte recipe above – as instructed by the esteemed Mrs Lincoln of the renowned Boston Cooking School, who really ought to be trusted to know her compôtes from her porridges – is a different dish entirely. ,

Perhaps I ought to brush-up on my cookery technical terms? Let’s see. Ah, yes, after a bit of (very) basic research it seems I have, indeed, been confusing my compôtes all along. Compôte is traditionally a dish of larger pieces of fruit stewed in syrup. Or, as Mrs Lincoln presents it, whole apples stewed in syrup, with their core-cavities stuffed with jelly or marmalade – presumably apple jelly[1] or apple marmalade – and then surrounded by whipped cream and yet more jelly.

All of which sounds very tasty indeed. But the episode does leave me with one burning question: what’s the correct technical term for fruit that has been reduced beyond the level of a compôte, but hasn’t yet reached a status of a purée or sauce? Let’s say medium-lumpy rather than large-lumpy, but not yet entirely smooth… is that a stew? A muddle? A jumble? A mishmash?

If anyone can clear that up for me, please do leave a comment below. Likewise if you decide to make Mrs Lincoln’s ‘Compôte of apples’ for yourself a comment would be msot welcome, or you can email me with your notes and photos if you prefer.


1 N.B. American “jelly” usually means the same as “jam” in the U.K. rather than the sort of gelatin-reinforced jelly that’s often served with ice cream at children’s birthday parties.

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