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Recipes and Stories

6 July 2022: Simple Summer Cooking I—Fresh Berry Compote

A Simple Compote of Seasonal Berries with Grand Marnier


Summer in the South (or, for that matter, anywhere) is full of irony for cooks. The bounty of produce inspires us at the very moment that the heat and humidity kill off any interest in being in front of a hot stove. The compensation is of course that summer is when the ingredients need the least amount of help from the cook. Indeed, they often don't need any help at all.


There's not much one can do to improve on a good peach or tomato that has been allowed to ripen to peak flavor on its tree or vine. If you doubt that, then you've never plucked one of either, given it a wipe or rinse, and bitten into it on the spot.


You might call it lazy, but there's wisdom (not to mention less chance of heatstroke) in knowing when to leave things alone.


There are exceptions, of course, (a good summer vegetable soup being one) when a long list of ingredients is not only warranted but necessary. In general, however, the more complex the recipe, especially in warm weather, the more I wonder who the author is trying to impress or, more likely, what they're trying to hide.


Not knowing when to stop isn't usually a hallmark of creative genius, but a dead give-away that the cook is either inexperienced, insecure, or just showing off. Or all of the above.


And on top of it all, they're bound to be exposing themselves to unnecessary work and heat for a result that can't possibly be worth it.


A Simple Berry Compote


This past weekend when I came across just-picked blueberries and strawberries from a local farmer at the Saturday market in Old Town, what to do with the ones that we didn't just eat out of hand took absolutely no thought. This is a lovely and practically effortless dessert for a summer lunch or supper, but also makes a nice breakfast with hot biscuits or buttered toast.


Feel free to add other berries to the mix such as blackberries or raspberries, or peeled, pitted, and diced peaches.


Serves 2


8-10 (depending on size) fresh, ripe strawberries

1 cup fresh, ripe blueberries


2 tablespoons orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Triple Sec


1. Rinse the berries well under cold running water and drain them. Cap, core, and slice the strawberries into a 1-quart mixing bowl. Pick over the blueberries for stems and add them to the bowl. Sprinkle lightly with 2-3 heaped teaspoons of sugar (depending on how sweet the berries already are), toss gently, and let them stand at least 10 minutes, or until the sugar is mostly dissolved and the berries have thrown off some of their juices and formed a syrup.


2. Add the liqueur, again gently toss the berries to evenly coat them, and let stand at least 10 minutes longer. They can be covered and chilled for up to an hour (but no longer), although we like them best at room temperature. This amount will serve two generously, but can be stretched to serve four spooned over a scoop of good vanilla ice cream.

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