Dried Apricots and Sweet Wine: Back Home with a Report and a Recipe
Goodness, it’s been a little while, hasn’t it? I have so much admiration for the tireless bloggers out there who manage to keep posting through storm, sickness and travel. I’m not sure I’ll ever be one, but I will try to get on a more regular schedule around here in the coming weeks. I do apologize to those of you waiting for your Botrytis samples. They are finally on their way with some accompanying goodies to make up for my being such a poor multi-tasker.
My week in Boise was a whirlwind of events and emotion. I talked with a group of writers about scent vocabulary and their scent memories and raised a bit of money for The Cabin, the great organization (housed in a retro-fitted historical log cabin) that sponsored the workshop. I was interviewed on live TV by an anchorwoman I’ve been watching since I was twelve. (Literally. She’s had her job for thirty years. But she looks exactly the same.) I talked to 220 first-year college students about, among other things, the differences between clean, pretty, and sexy smells, and how some perfumes celebrate and ornament the smells of the body rather than conceal them. (Hey. They asked.) I got a beautiful letter from my third grade teacher. I taped a segment for Idaho PBS that I’ll tell you more about when it airs in December. I smelled purple sage and summer dust and wildfire smoke. I heard coyotes yipping and howling outside my window in the middle of the night. I went for a walk in the hills at sunrise.
And I read to a packed room of full of old friends and teachers and strangers, an experience so thrilling and terrifying that when I was done I completely forgot I was supposed to do a Q+A and just ran off the stage instead.
But no one noticed, because while I was signing books and chatting with everyone they were sipping jasmine bellinis and opal basil lemonade (so delicious, thanks, Victoria!) and eating delicious treats like ylang ylang chocolate torte (make a torte, put a few drops of ylang ylang essence on a damp paper towel, rest towel on torte in airtight container for a few hours–it lends a floral, funky, indefinable deliciousness to the chocolate) and this fragrant, golden compote inspired by Ginestet’s Botrytis perfume.
DRIED APRICOT COMPOTE WITH SWEET WINE, VANILLA AND CARDAMOM
When I do a reading, I like to share a few perfumes with the audience. This time it was Annick Goutal’s Eau de Hadrien, whose basil-lemon note echoed our lemonade; Les Nez’s Let Me Play the Lion, which smelled so exactly of the dry, dusty, wildfire scented air in Boise that when I wore it one day I couldn’t tell where it left off and the air around me began; and Botrytis, the Sauternes inspired perfume featured in one of the scenes I read. Sauternes is invariably described as having notes of apricot, vanilla, honey and spice–a list that causes my brain to say compote, compote, compote. And so it came to pass.
If you are feeling extravagant you can use an inexpensive Sauternes (around $20 a bottle). I couldn’t bring myself to boil down an already intensely flavored wine, and used a lovely $12 Muscat instead. I highly recommend using a real vanilla bean–since you simmer the pod as well as the seeds it makes a huge difference to the depth of the final flavor. Another note: This basic recipe is endlessly flexible. I chose dried fruit meant to mimic the color and flavor of Sauternes, but you could easily add a few dried cranberries for color, or try a variation like dried peaches (and now I want to do just that) or a whole different direction with dried plums and a red wine with added spices like saffron and cinnamon (but only if you come back and tell me all about it) or, or, or…
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sweet wine such as Sauternes, Muscat or Riesling
3/4 cup honey
1 1/2 cup dried apricots
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 vanilla bean
4-5 whole green cardamom pods
5-6 whole black peppercorn
(Optional to serve: toasted walnuts, fresh ricotta, water crackers, fresh ground pepper)
Combine water, wine and honey in a saucepan–sounds like the beginning of a miracle, doesn’t it? Let come to a boil, then reduce to simmer.
Meanwhile, chop dried apricots into pieces roughly the size of your raisins. If your raisins are very large you may want to give them a rough chop, too. Remember the fruit will plump up quite a bit while it simmers.
Split your vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the delicious sticky seeds inside with a knife. Add both seeds and pod to simmering liquid along with dried fruit and spices. Stir, partially cover with lid and retire to the couch with a good book for the next 30 minutes or so, just at the point when your house smells so good you can hardly stand it. Note: If you forget–or choose not–to wash your hands, your book will forever smell of the rich, brown caramel bourbon smell of fresh vanilla bean. You may want to choose your reading accordingly.
After 25-30 minutes, taste a piece of apricot. It should be fully plumped and have a velvety softness in your mouth. The softness is not strictly necessary, but it is worth waiting for. When it is achieved, remove fruit from syrup and place in a glass bowl. Raise heat slightly and continue to cook syrup until it has reduced enough to coat a spoon. Mine darkened to a gorgeous amber red color.
Re-unite syrup with fruit. Serve however you like. I ate mine as pictured above, added to fresh ricotta on water crackers and topped with toasted walnuts and fresh cracked pepper, because I wanted some counterpoint to the fragrant, soft sweetness of the compote, but a friend said she would have just cut to the chase and drizzled hers over ice cream. Either way would be excellent–especially when served alongside the rest of the wine on a crisp fall evening.