As the weather turns cooler and the Jewish New Year approaches, I start getting nostalgic for that Ol’ Time Jewish Cookin’. And “nostalgia is a dish best served old,” quoth I.
Fortunately, She Who Must Be Obeyed, over the course of many years, absorbed an enormous amount of Jewish Cookin’ Knowledge from her grandmother and mother. On my side of the family, Mom was a wonderful, fiercely independent lady who could be relied on to make one thing for dinner that was always a success: Reservations.
I jest - but only a little.
As for my grandmothers, my mother’s mother was a decent, if unspectacular, cook. From her, I learned that it was actually possible to burn soup. Who knew?
Ah, but my Dad’s mother - Grandma Shirley - now, that lady knew how to sling a pan.
My eyes still get misty when I think of Grandma Shirley’s cooking. When I was a Young Snot-Nose, I would eagerly look forward to those weekends when the Grand-’Rents would come out to visit, for that meant breakfasting on scrambled eggs and tender caramelized onions cooked in butter. And Sundays in Brooklyn meant a Big-Time Dinner, with roasted chicken redolent of garlic and transparent of skin; meat loaf (the best on the planet!) containing the perfect amount of flavorful chopped onion; savory latkes (pancakes) of spinach; potato kugel, made with what had to have been a 55-gallon drum of cooking oil; and Old-School gefilte fish, stuffed into the fish’s skin. So what if she wasn’t a Pastry Whiz? If her rugelach had measured up to everything else she made, I would have gone though life carrying an extra 75 pounds on my ass.
Here's a seasonal recipe that any one of our grandparents would have been proud of: a fruit compote made with whatever dried fruits are handy. Make this and it’ll keep for weeks - even a month or two - in the fridge. Perfect for dessert, or as an accompaniment to a Meaty Meal.
Dried Fruit Compote
4 pounds dried fruit (I use a combination of prunes, apricots, peaches, and pears)
1½ cups orange juice
1½ cups water
½ cup granulated sugar
One cinnamon stick
Peel of one lemon
In a large bowl, pour boiling water over the fruit and let stand for one hour. Drain thoroughly. [This removes the sulfates that are often used as preservatives in dried fruit.]
Put the fruit in a saucepan with the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes. The fruit should be tender but not completely falling apart.
Let the contents of the saucepan cool. If necessary, adjust the amount of sugar or orange juice to taste, or add lemon juice to give the compote a tart flavor note. Remove the cinnamon stick and store covered and refrigerated. The fruit will eventually absorb any remaining syrup. This recipe makes enough to serve a small army.
The compote is delicious as-is, but if you want to jazz it up, feel free to add a jigger of dark rum or Cognac. It will keep for a long time, but around here, we usually polish it off after a few weeks.