Recipe: Vanilla Poached Stone-Fruit

The lights are going out all over the internet, and this blog will be down for twelve hours from midnight local time in support of the SOPA blackout.  But before we all resign ourselves to an internet-free world (and how will I cope with those dreadful RGMS CVs tomorrow with no internet to distract me?  Then again, given how often that website falls over without any help from internet blackouts at all, it’s possible a good book will see me through the day…), here’s a quick recipe to entertain you.  Hardly a recipe at all, in fact, but I don’t have my ratatouille photos uploaded yet, so you’ll have to wait for that one.

This recipe works for basically any kind of fruit and just about any kind of flavouring.  And you can serve it hot or cold or with almost any kind of sweet accompaniment, too.  It’s another excellent recipe for summer, because these poached fruits are lovely just with icecream on a hot day… or make a sauce of puréed raspberries and call them peaches Melba… or whatever you like…

Best of all, they are really easy to make.

Your shopping list

1 kg of stone fruit, such as apricots, peaches, plums or nectarines.  I’d start by just going with one kind of fruit for now, but there is nothing wrong with doing an entire poached fruit salad if you wish.
1 vanilla pod
150 g sugar
300 ml water

Now what will you do with it?

Put the sugar and water in a saucepan over the lowest possible heat, and heat, very slowly, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved.  If you use a metal spoon to stir, you will be able to see when the sugar crystals are all gone.

Meanwhile, slice your vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape the seeds out, straight into the saucepan with the sugar and water.  Throw in the pod, too.

Wash your fruit, halve it, and stone it.  This is much easier if you don’t have clingstone fruits.  Apricots and some peaches are easy; most plums are a pain.

When the sugar has all dissolved, bring the syrup to the boil, and let it simmer for a few minutes before you add the fruit.   You want the syrup to cover the fruit – depending on the shape of your saucepan and the size of your fruit, it may not all fit into the saucepan and you may have to do it in two or more batches.  That’s fine, because your syrup will just get more vanilla-ish as time goes on.

Partly cover the saucepan and reduce the heat to a bare simmer, then cook the fruits until they are soft, but not falling apart.  This will probably only take a few minutes, but it depends a lot on your stove.  Remove the fruits with a slotted spoon – you can slip the skins off at this point, if you are trying to make everything pretty, but this is also a great way to burn your fingers, so I suggest you leave the skins on and tell people that, in fact, the vitamins are directly under the skin, the skin contains valuable fibre and, in short, it is good for them.

At this point, you will have a saucepan of vanilla syrup left.  You can do a few things with this; reducing it to make it thicker is always a good option (and you can store poached fruit submerged in a syrup for quite a long time, actually, especially if you add a dash of alcohol to the arrangement), or you can add gelatin or pectin to make it into a jelly (which you can set the fruit into, if you like), or, my preferred option, put it in the fridge to use for your next batch of poached fruit.  You can top it up with more sugar and water (in the same 1:2 ratio) if you feel you need more.  It only improves over time.

I let those apricots cook just a little too long, in fact… but they still taste amazing.

Variations and Serving Suggestions

I think we all get that this one is vegan and gluten-free and nut-free until you go adding ice-cream and cake and praline to it, yes?  But, actually, all of those things are rather lovely with poached fruit – ginger or lemon cakes are especially good accompaniments, as is vanilla ice-cream.  Or custard, be it crême brulée or panna cotta or even a pouring custard.  You can make a raspberry sauce by puréeing 200g raspberries with a spoonful or two of sugar and lemon juice – this is very much to taste – and a little water if it’s still too thick.  You can make a chocolate sauce, too, and personally I’d just make a basic ganache-like creation of, say, 150 g chocolate to 100 g cream.  That would be pretty nice over plums, I think.  Or you can serve them with just a little of the reduced syrup as a sauce.  Plain but nice.  Or you can have them for breakfast, with yoghurt and some nuts, oats and coconut you toasted in honey.

But the real fun in this recipe is changing the poaching liquid and the fruit.  For example, pears (beurre bosc, peeled and cored but left intact) are gorgeous cooked like this – they take more like an hour to get fork-tender (and you do want to be able to poke a fork into them gently and meet no real resistance), and excellent with chocolate sauce.  You could probably poach cherries, too, if you were insane enough to go to the trouble of stoning them.  And quinces, if you were willing to have them cook for a couple of hours or more (which does make the house smell wonderful, so it’s worth considering, but quinces really are more easily managed in an oven).  Or you could go to that old reliable winter fruit salad route, and poach mixed dried fruits until they swell up and are reconstituted.  Though I’d add rum or orange juice or red wine or something stronger to the poaching liquid for those.

And speaking of the poaching liquid, you can take out the vanilla and replace it with spices, or licorice root.  You can add liqueur at the end (kirsch is good), or marsala or  wine at the start (I’d be inclined to use red wine with pears, quinces or apples, and white wine for the more delicate stone fruit).  You could do mulled pears, in fact, with red wine *and* spices and some orange rind and maybe brandy.  You could poach berries really briefly (just a minute, until they came back to the boil) with a syrup infused with rosewater, or poach apricots in a syrup infused with Green’s Ginger Wine (which I will never, ever do, because I haven’t been able to look at the stuff since that fateful night many years ago when I decided that Green’s Ginger Wine ought to be *green* and added food colour accordingly.  Rather more than accordingly, actually.  Not nice.).  Or do the Nigella thing of infusing the syrup with mint leaves and bourbon to make a Peach Julep.

I could, in fact, sit here all night coming up with things to do with poached fruit and ways to vary the poaching liquid.  But a wise Catherine would go to bed now, and, more importantly, put this post to bed, before WordPress blacks out for the next twelve hours.

And sometimes I actually am wise…

See you on the other side.

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4 comments for “Recipe: Vanilla Poached Stone-Fruit

  1. Hannah
    January 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    Looks gorgeous! I went a bit off poached fruit as a dessert because we ate it so often in my allergy-having household, but you’ve reminded me how lovely it can be 🙂

    • January 19, 2012 at 1:20 pm

      I’m big on fruit desserts – free vitamins! But these are just lovely because you can do nearly anything with them.

  2. January 20, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    I just drained out the dregs of a bottle of green ginger wine in my pantry clean out – at the time I knew I should have saved it for something like this (I rather like the idea of having it green – would love to mix it with green fruit to have green fruit in green syrup but what fruit would that be???). All sounds good but cooked fruit was something we turned our nose up at in childhood so I rarely do it and yet when I do it I love it.

    • January 21, 2012 at 11:40 pm

      The trouble with having it green is when you put in so much green food colouring that you can actually taste the food colouring.

      As for green fruit… gooseberries? Honeydew melons? Grapes? Kiwi Fruit? None of those are really ideal for stewing, though. Maybe those greengage plums? I haven’t seen any in Australia, but I gather they are very green, and plum with ginger is good…

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