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Recipes and Stories

21 August 2017: More Simple Summer Cooking—Fresh Peach and Blueberry Compote

Fresh Peach and Blueberry Compote with Sourwood Honey

Toward the end of the summer of 1979, while I was in graduate school at Clemson University, my mother came for a short visit. As usual, she left me with a cache of produce from her garden, supplemented by baskets of fragrant late peaches and blueberries from local orchards.

It was my first apartment, and therefore the first kitchen that was wholly my own: usually, such gifts led to a day of curious cooking, but a project deadline loomed and my un-airconditioned apartment was too hot to consider turning on the monstrous avocado-green electric stove that dominated my little kitchen.

Since Clemson is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, there was always a jar of local sourwood honey in my pantry. After pitting and cutting up the peaches, I tossed them with lemon juice to keep them from discoloring, added the berries, and generously drizzled it all with honey. Giving them a toss, I mopped my brow and went back to my drawing board, where there was at least a whisper of a breeze thanks to the wide, shaded double-window in front of it.

When I checked in on the fruit an hour later, the peaches, berries, and honey, while each remained distinct, had melded together and, like the culinary equivalent of a musical overtone, a new flavor had emerged that was at once spicy and floral. When I offered it to company later, they wanted to know what spices had been added.

It was an early lesson in how important balance and restraint are to good cooking, a lesson that’s all too often lost on far too many cooks who are bent on being clever.

Fresh Peach and Blueberry Compote

This simple compote has been a part of my summer cooking ever since, and not a single summer passes without my making it at least twice.

Serves 6
6 medium or 3 large ripe freestone peaches
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
8 ounces (2 cups or 1 pint container) ripe blueberries
About 1/2 cup (or to taste) sourwood or another quality honey (see note below)

1. Wash the peaches, gently rubbing to remove all the fuzz. I never peel them unless the skin is thick and tough, but you can do so if you really must. Halve them and remove the pits, then cut them lengthwise into thick wedges. Put them in a large glass bowl, sprinkle the lemon juice over them, and toss well.

2. Wash the berries, drain, and pick through them to remove any stems and withered or overripe fruit. Add them to the peaches, then drizzle them with honey to taste, and toss until the fruit is well coated. Cover and let stand 30 minutes to an hour. Taste, adjust the honey, and refrigerate until nicely chilled, at least an hour. Serve cold.

Note: Sourwood honey is a specialty of the mountain regions of the South, particularly the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee. its distinctive flavor comes from honey made with the blossoms of sourwood trees. It’s available mostly from local vendors and occasionally from specialty groceries. So, while the flavor of this honey is preferable, you can substitute any good honey that you happen to have on hand.

Recipe and text adapted from Beans, Greens, & Sweet Georgia Peaches, 2nd Ed. (Globe Pequot Press), copyright © 2014 by Damon Lee Fowler, all rights reserved.

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