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Food For Thought

Cherry, Pear-y Cranberry Compote

Is this the year you'll make homemade cranberry sauce? If so, you can't go wrong with this Cherry, Pear-y Cranberry Compote. It's cranberry sauce...but oh so much better.

Ever since my sister made this cranberry compote for Thanksgiving one year, I've never gone back to "regular" cranberry sauce. She had adapted a recipe that originally appeared in Gourmet Magazine that called for quince. Her substitution of pears was brilliant, and after tasting it I was immediately hooked. But of course, after getting her version on paper, I had to fiddle around with it a little. You know, just to make it my own :)

What's different about this cranberry compote?

First off, it's a compote—not exactly a sauce (although I call it that most of the time). A compote is just dried or fresh fruit cooked in a syrup, but it's got bigger chunks of fruit than a sauce does. For this recipe I use both dried and fresh fruit. I kept the pears, because pears are a lovely, yet highly underrated fall fruit and I look for opportunities to use them. And since I'm originally from the mitten state and always have dried Michigan cherries on hand, I tossed in a handful of those. Hence, the cutesy name of Cherry, Pear-y Cranberry Compote. I also used apple cider in place of apple juice. Sometimes I stir in a tiny bit of orange or tangerine zest at the end, but honestly, it doesn't really need it. If you aren't a fan of cinnamon, you could swap in a pinch of ground cloves or even a little pumpkin pie spice (around 1/4 teaspoon would be fine).

How do you make cranberry sauce?

The ingredients for a standard cranberry sauce are very simple: fresh cranberries, some liquid such as water or juice, and sugar. Then simply cook the mixture on the stove top over medium heat and wait for the cranberries to pop open (this usually takes around 10 minutes). Listen for the popping sound—that's the cranberries popping open, which releases pectin, helping to thicken the sauce. The longer you cook the sauce, the more pectin you'll get from the berries (and the more liquid will evaporate), and the thicker your sauce will become. Spices may be added to jazz up the sauce a bit. The whole process from beginning to end usually takes roughly 20 minutes. This compote takes a longer because you have to peel and cook the pears.

What can I do with leftover cranberry compote?

Well, if you're me, you eat it from the container with a spoon, thanking your lucky stars that your sister introduced you to this recipe way back when (thanks Chrissy!). But of course, you can always eat it the next day at Thanksgiving 2.0. I prefer to spoon it over a generous dollop of cottage cheese—the tartness is a good counterpoint to the rather bland cheese (this makes an excellent breakfast or snack). Extra compote would also make a nice accompaniment to a charcuterie board or cheese and cracker plate (serve it with a small spoon). Finally, consider blending it up into a smoothie, stirring it into your morning oatmeal or layering it with yogurt and granola to make a pretty parfait.

Can I make cranberry sauce ahead of time?

Absolutely—and I recommend it because who needs more to do on Thanksgiving day itself? Plus, prepping it ahead gives the flavors time to meld. Cranberry sauce and this compote keeps well in the refrigerator in a covered container for a good week. Serving it chilled makes for a nice contrast to all the hot food on your holiday plate.

I hope you give this version a try—it's simple and just scrumptious. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Makes about 12 servings


1 pound fresh pears (don't use super ripe ones; crisp are best)

2 cups apple cider

1/2 cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick

1 12-oz. bag fresh cranberries

1/2 cup dried cherries

1/2 - 1 tsp. orange or tangerine zest (optional)


  1. Peel, core and cut pears into 3/4-inch pieces; set aside.

  2. In a heavy, large saucepan, combine the cider, sugar and cinnamon stick. Bring it to a boil and stir to dissolve sugar.

  3. Add the pears and cook over medium heat until tender (from 10-20 minutes depending on how ripe the pears are).

  4. Add the cranberries and cook, stirring occasionally, until you hear the berries pop and the mixture thickens, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the dried cherries and the orange zest, if using.

  5. Remove the cinnamon stick and let the compote cool. Refrigerate until serving.

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