The Lebanese villagers, in the old days, had the transportation means pretty rudimentary. The mountainous landscape and narrow road made it an extreme sport to get through the snow to get to another place to get supplies.
Most of the villages counted on the ambulant salesmen or “mkary” as they call them locally, to get all kinds of goods. Those traveled on donkey back and were the adventurous people who faced the odds, whether related to climate or to politics. They actually played a great part in smuggling provisions to the villagers, under the Ottoman Empire and during the World War I.
Still these tough men could not always beat the weather and bring the villagers the food items they might lack, along with other goods. So the villagers had to find ways to preserve food in a world before refrigeration. A lot of these habits carried on, but from necessity they turned into tradition. The list of these foods is long, it included but is not limited to: Kishk (A mix of dried yogurt and bulgur turned into a powder that can offer a protein filled meal in about 15 minutes), Kawarma or Qawarma (a mix of lamb fat and meat used as a fatty base to some dishes), tomato paste, jams of any kind of fruit cultivated in the village, dried fruits and compote.
Peach compote is a favorite of mine. As long as I can remember my mom made it with a taste that can be described as out of this world. The peach compote should be made with a special kind of peaches that ripen but stay firm. The downfall of this kind is that it can rot fast when ripe, hence it is better used as compote.
The natural preserving agent in compote is sugar and of course the tightly sealed jars. A while ago I saw a show where the chef made compote, it was Nigella I think, and it happened that my aunt came across some compote peaches. My mom was not in the mood to make it, so I volunteered to make them the way I saw on TV and that did not seem too complicated, because the chef boiled the peaches then peeled them. My mom happened to be in an adventurous mood and stoically said: “try it if you like”. I got to admit that along the years I gained some culinary world credibility in her eyes.
So I set myself to try as seen on TV. I removed the seeds from the peaches and boiled them in the syrup till tender, then peeled them when hot. My mom forgot to tell me to core them so the syrup would not to turn pink. I am a novice in compote making and despite the fact that my mom is a great cook, she is the worst teacher. She omits details that she remembers too late…
Although the color of the syrup was pretty and did not make any difference with the taste. I put them in a tight seal jar. Still my mom was dubitative that those might last and she put them automatically in the fridge. Because her method is totally different and she was not sure this would keep the peach compote in good condition through the winter if not refrigerated.
Although this batch did not live to tell the tale because everyone had a taste, to see if it works like the traditional way my mom uses.
My aunt brought in another batch of peaches a couple of days later, this time I used a hybrid way between what I have seen on TV and my mom’s way. I peeled the peaches, cored them (a melon baller can do wonders here) then boiled them in syrup till soft. Then put them in tight sealed jars.
In both times I waited for the syrup to cool down before sealing the jars.
Of course my mom HAD TO put them in the fridge too.
Third batch I tried my mom’s infallible method. I peeled and cored the peaches, put them in the jars with cooled syrup (I had some syrup leftover from batch # 2), sealed the jars then boiled them in water for 15 minutes. Of course the water has to cover the whole jar, if not you can turn it around once the water boils for a while.
My mom has a way to make sure that the jars are totally sealed: she turns them upside down and leaves them at room temperature for two or three days. If the syrup does not leak, you are good to go. (I kinda forgot to take photos – insert red face here-)
Now we are waiting to see if my compote will last the winter.
Although, following my mom’s instructions, I used a heavy syrup for the three batches with a ratio of 2/1 sugar to water. In my opinion they came a tad sweet, following that first batch that was annihilated due to tasting. Maybe this was due to the caramelized sugar. The other two batches still have to be judged.
A lot of fruits can be made this way, especially tart fruit which makes great compotes. The non exhaustive list includes: cherries, mangoes, pineapples, apricots, blackberries (yeah yeah blackberries, mom used to make them), pears, grapes…
Anyway, it was all in all a cool experience, I don’t know what is it about new things to make that always makes me excited and leaves me with a sense of satisfaction.
I think now you know what my title means, but at least, I was able to share three ways of making compote that all work and that can insert a bit of sunshine on a cold winter day.