Makes about 5 cups
Simmering dried fruit in a light syrup magically makes them soft and plump and imbues them with a vivid, fresh fruit flavor and perfume. The plumped fruit will last indefinitely in the refrigerator to be drawn on to make instant desserts and quick improvisations. (They are especially useful in winter months when fresh fruit is disappointing). These fruits are delicious as a simple compote with drained sheep's milk yogurt, ice cream or crème fraiche, or served alongside a plain cake. They make an excellent filling for tarts and turnovers.

This method works well with about any dried fruit that has a nice balance of acidity and sweetness, such as cherries, blueberries, apricots, prunes, and raisins, adjusting the quantities of sweetener accordingly. Use red or white wine instead of water in the syrup to amplify the fruits' wininess and add some acidity, particularly lovely in league with fragrant honey, which gives the effect of cooking them in a dessert wine. And you can improvise endlessly, infusing the syrup with spices or herbs or spiking it with dark rum, Armagnac or grappa, once the fruit is plumped and cooled.
  • 3 cups water or 2 cups white or red wine mixed with 1 cup water
  • About 3/4 cup sugar or wildflower honey, or to taste
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out
  • 2 strips orange and lemon zest, or 4 strips Meyer lemon zest
  • 3/4 pound dried fruit, such as apricots (California are best), prunes, peaches, cherries, raisins, nectarines
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1. In a small nonreactive saucepan, combine the water (and wine, if using), sugar, vanilla bean and orange and lemon zests.

2. Bring to a boil over moderately high heat, and cook about 7 minutes until the sweetener has dissolved and the syrup has a rich vanilla flavor.

3. Add the dried fruit and simmer - do not boil - for exactly five minutes. Stir in lemon juice to taste and additional sweetener if desired. Set aside to cool.

4. Transfer the fruit and syrup to a clean dry jar. They can be used right away, but get better if left several days to "cure" at room temperature. Store in the refrigerator.

Variation: Roasted Dried Fruit

Make Plumped Dried Fruit (above) using stone fruits such as California apricots or peaches. For 4 servings, drain 2 cups of the fruit and arrange it, skin-side-down in one layer in a buttered baking dish. Dot with 2 teaspoons unsalted butter and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Roast in a 350°F. oven (the temperature is not critical: you can roast them along with other dishes at higher temperatures) until the fruit is golden and the bottoms are lightly caramelized, about 30 to 40 minutes. Cool slightly and serve with crème fraiche or vanilla ice cream. 

© 2005 by Sally Schneider. All rights reserved.