This compote is wintery with the earthy notes of spice, but summery with the sweetness of fruit. It’s soft and luscious, it tastes of Christmas with cloves and cinnamon, sweet and faintly of brandy or port. It’s warming, in a sense, comforting perhaps. It’s fresh and clean also. In other words, it’s endlessly versatile.

Dried fruit compotes have been part of our fridge staples for a few years now. Mainly they were born out of a need for something different in the middle of winter than apples and mandarins, or trying to make a dent in a large bag of dried apricots or dried figs. We would soak them overnight in hot water sweetened with a squeeze of orange, a peeling of rind, a teaspoon of sugar and drop or two of vanilla. The next morning the fruit would be plump and almost silken while the vanilla-citrus syrup had perfumed the apricots or figs. We eat the compote atop soaked oats and yoghurt for breakfast, or vanilla ice cream for dessert. But this fruit compote is slightly more structured in its preparation. That’s not to say you can’t whip it up in 10 minutes (plus soaking time), or alter the recipe to your tastes, but the point is, there is a recipe, and it comes from quite a delightful book, La Cigale.

I was driving across town the other morning with my parents, or rather they were driving me due to such intense exhaustion that I moved back home for a day of care and comfort and good food. They began telling me the story of La Cigale, the French market and café in Auckland. The car radio was switched off and as we drove closer and closer to our destination the story was described with an increasing sense of urgency; it needed to be told.

The long story short, my father said, is a New Zealand woman whose family owned a fabric importing business. They travelled through Europe sourcing fabrics and along the way fell in love with France. Later the woman, with her husband, took over the fabric business but motivated by a changing economy and a passion for all things French, they turned the fabric warehouse in Auckland into a French bistro and market. It is now something of an institution.

I have never been to La Cigale, though I have heard plenty of wonderful things about it. If this fruit compote is anything to go by, La Cigale – the book, the market, the bistro – is a delicious little pocket of France in New Zealand. One last note, the dried fruit is soaked in black tea. We used earl grey blue flower for more perfumed, floral hints. I think weak black tea would be best – strong tannins might tarnish the softness of the fruit. In saying that, perhaps a white tea would work well too.

Dried Fruit Compote

Feel free to change the fruit to your liking, and to add more cold tea for extra moisture or desired consistency.

250 grams each of stoned dates, figs (cut in half), prunes, apricots
250 grams mixed dried fruit – pears, peaches, pineapple, apple, etc
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
juice and rind of 2 oranges
2 cups cold tea

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Leave to infuse in the pot for 3 to 4 hours.