The New year for trees is called Tu B’Shvat in the bible. It’s not a holiday like say Rosh Hashana, but it is a holiday of biblical significance. In an agricultural society, which Israel was during the time of the judges and later the first and second temple this was an especially meaningful occasion, accompanied by singing and dancing.
Once a majority of Jews were no longer living on the Land, the practice emerged of serving fruits and nuts, as well as eating from the seven species – the shivat ha minim – or focusing on fruits mentioned in the bible such as carob, apples, and walnuts.
In school, we would receive a bag of dried fruit and a carob as a treat.
On the inside of the door of my Savta’s fridge, there were always two large glass jars that had once held instant coffee, filled continuously with her delicious compote. In my Savta’s world this was considered an easy go-to snack. If you want a snack have some compote! Thankfully my Saba always had a hidden stash of Kit-Kats. None the less I loved the sweet and lemony compote with a combination of dried fruit and winter fruits such as pears and apples.
Her winter compote was always served on Tu B’shvat – she didn’t make it especially, but that said if it happened to be Tu B’shvat and we happened to be at her house and someone made her aware of the Hebrew date, out would come the enamel dishes and hurrah! She would say ‘look what I made for Tu B’shvat! Compote!’
Compote conformed to the medieval belief that fruit cooked in sugar syrup balanced the effects of humidity in the body. Because it was easy to prepare, made from inexpensive ingredients, and contained no dairy products, compote became a staple of Jewish households throughout Europe.
- 1 large orange
- 1 juicy lemon
- 830ml (3 1/2 cups) water
- 100g (1/2 cup) sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 whole star anise
- 2 large ripe pears
- 2 Granny Smith apple
- 2 pink lady apple
- 150g (1 cup) dried figs
- 190g (1 cup) dried apricots
- 125 (1 cup) dried plums (prunes)
- 40g (1/4 cup) raisins
1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove from the orange 3 strips, from the lemon remove 2 strips and squeeze all the juice from the orange and lemon into a bowl. Set peel and juice aside separately.
2. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine water, sugar, cinnamon, star anise, and reserved orange and lemon peel. Cover and heat to boiling on high; reduce heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, peel and core pears and apples then cut each fruit into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
4. Stir figs, apricots, plums, and raisins into a saucepan; simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in pears and apples and simmer for 10 minutes or until fruit is tender but not mushy, stirring occasionally.
5. Remove compote from heat and stir in reserved juices. Let stand for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. Discard orange and lemon peel, cinnamon, and star anise before serving. Compote stored in the fridge in an airtight container will keep for up to two weeks.