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You Say Compôte, I Say Stewed

What’s in a name, eh?

There have been several occasions of late where I have happened upon blog posts describing fruit compôtes and, each time, I have experienced precisely the same sequence of reactions, to wit:

  1. compôte – oooh, sounds fancy, quickly followed by…
  2. ah, you just mean stewed fruit

Now, don’t get me wrong, the compôtes described were lovely and more than worthy of gracing my web browser with their presence. It’s just that, in my head at least, the word compôte generated a mental image of something more ooh la la than an everyday bowl of stewed fruit.

The fact of the matter is, however, that there is really no difference between the two. A compôte (almost literally) boils down to some pieces of fruit stewed in syrup. What that means is that, apart from the fruit itself, there was some water and sugar involved. There may or may not have been some additional flavourings in on the act. Oh, and a saucepan and some gentle heat if you want to be really particular about it. But that’s it. It’s just fruit (as much as you want to eat) chopped up and stewed in a little water (the amount of which is invariably less than you think you’ll need) over a gentle heat with sugar added to taste. To be honest, I had to go and look it up, just to make sure that I hadn’t missed something. Other than the fact that some (but not all) definitions specify that the fruit pieces should stay intact for it to be a compôte, that is indeed pretty much it.

Orangey stewed rhubarb

Orangey stewed rhubarb

The point, I guess, is that how we describe food can predispose us to think of it in certain contexts and make it more or less accessible, without changing the material fact of what the food is or how it is made. The orangey stewed rhubarb I describe below is no more or less lovely or tasty than if I had described it as an orange rhubarb compôte. Purists could quibble over the fact that this particular dish did not a compôte make, the rhubarb having completely disintegrated in the stewing process, but let’s just leave them in the quibbling corner. What I’m getting at is that people’s perceptions of a dish can have a lot to do with how they relate (or not) to it and while simple food does not have to mean plain food, it is sometimes nice to let the food speak plainly.

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Stewed Rhubarb With Orange Juice and Cinnamon

This all came about as a result of having gotten my paws on the first rhubarb of the season from my mothers garden and I simply thought, well, stew that! I have to thank Christie from Fig and Cherry for suggesting this particular combination. I was about to stew the rhubarb with my usual pinch of dried ginger when she mentioned (or should I say tweeted) that she loved it stewed with orange juice and a cinnamon stick. So I went with that and it was very fine indeed.

Stewed rhubarb on bread

Go on, try it on some bread...

You’ll need:
  • About 250g rhubarb
  • Juice of one orange, about 6 tblsps or so
  • 1 cinnamon stick, approx 3cm long
  • Sugar to taste
The Steps:
  • Wipe the rhubarb sticks clean and slice into small pieces, say about 1 cm wide, and remove any stringy bits of the skin.
  • Add the rhubarb to a saucepan with the orange juice and the cinnamon stick. The rhubarb will release a lot of liquid as it cooks, so you don’t need any additional liquid here.
  • Place the saucepan, covered, over a medium heat, until it just starts to bubble, then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until the rhubarb pieces are very soft and disintegrate easily, around 20 to 25 minutes.
  • You can remove the cinnamon stick now and stir in sugar to taste. I used about 25g of demerara sugar in this, which meant that the rhubarb still retained a fair amount of tartness, but it really all depends on the particular rhubarb and orange juice you use and on your own personal sweet tooth.
  • You can eat this warm, cold or at room temperature. Eat on its own or as a dessert with yoghurt, cream or ice cream. Spoon it on your breakfast cereal or spread it onto some crusty white buttered bread. The possibilities are endless.
The Variations:
  • Replace the orange juice with an equal amount of water and add a pinch of dried ginger in place of the cinnamon stick.
The Results:
  • This much rhubarb probably amounts to around 2 dessert portions, if that’s how you plan on eating it.


  1. Christie @ Fig & Cherry

    The rhubarb in the first shot looks so vibrant and fresh! What a joy to get your hands on such wonderful produce to cook with (hooray for your Mum!).

    So glad you gave the orange/cinnamon combination and a try ;)

  2. jenn

    As long as the outcome is the same, names don’t matter much with me. Although, compote does have a fancy ring to it. =)

    The stewed rhubard on bread looks delish. Perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack.

  3. Natasha - 5 Star Foodie

    Rhubarb sounds awesome with orange juice and cinnamon! There’s certainly no difference between stewed rhubarb and compote. Actually, I found a very similar recipe in Jean Georges cookbook and he calls it a rhubarb “soup” :)

  4. greg

    I have never eaten rhubarb. I thought I had an intellectual understanding of what it is, but have never actually eaten it. So I feel at a loss in understanding it completely. But from what I gather from reading here it is in fact not a fruit! Which is news to me…GREG

  5. Sophie

    MMMMM…LOOks great, something for me!! Did you use forced rhubarb or normal rhubarb? Because the forced rhubarb we can’t buy in Belgium!
    Looks delicious!

    Lovely on some home made bread with slightly salted butter,….

  6. Mindy

    Strangely enough, I’ve never tried rhubarb, but have been tempted to buy the lovely stalks at the local market recently. I think that I’ll pick some up next time and try this!

    Do you think that fresh ginger would work in place of dried?

  7. Daily Spud

    Christie: yes, it was fantastic rhubarb I must say and thanks again for the orange/cinnamon idea, I loved it!

    jenn: yep – the most important thing is that it tastes good, right?

    Natasha: rhubarb soup? brilliant :) and the orange/cinnamon variation is definitely worth a try

    Greg: yes, you are quite right, it is, in fact a vegetable, it just gets treated like an honorary fruit; if you ever coming visiting I will cook you some

    Sophie: the rhubarb in the picture was forced and it was just beautiful; I have rhubarb in my own garden which has not been forced and so it’s not anywhere near that big yet, but will get there evetually

    Mindy: I think you could certainly try a little fresh ginger with the rhubarb in place of the dried (and thanks for dropping in btw!)

  8. Chef Asata from Life Chef

    Looks great and would be a welcome addition to my breakfast table. Think I’ll give it a try w/ some fresh ginger!

  9. Tangled Noodle

    Aaahhh! A discourse after my own heart – food as status signifier! By using descriptors that have particular connotations (French=haute cuisine), an ‘aura’ of inaccessibility is created around even the most simple preparation that may effect our approach to or consumption of it. Whereas I might happily munch away on veggies and dip, perhaps I’ll be a little more genteel in partaking of ‘les crudités et vinaigrette’. And what is coq au vin but a stringy old rooster stewed in wine? There is an element of signaling in using such descriptors to convey or imply cultural sophistication, wordliness, and education.

    Then again, it may also be the only recognized name of the dish with no English or other language counterpart, and was not intended to differentiate. But I love overanalyzing . . . !

    Thank your for this recipe – our rhubarb is just sprouting but I have a freezer full from last year’s harvest. I usually stew them down with just a bit of water and sugar but I much prefer the promise of orange juice and cinnamon (and ginger, from the suggestions here!)

  10. Barnaby Dorfman

    I love this recipe and will definitely try it when I next get my hands on some rhubarb. As a child I used to eat it raw out of a patch that grew in a field near my house. One day a friend and I went there for a sour treat and accidentally stepped on a yellow jacket hive…I was stung over 30 times. After I recovered, I went right back for more. I love the stuff so much I’m willing to suffer for my rhubarb!

  11. Reeni

    I’ve never had rhubarb! I feel deprived. This looks so yummy on that crusty bread!

  12. Heather

    i adore rhubarb. this sounds delicious! especially with that bread!! mmmmm.

  13. Jenni

    You go, DS! Well said! I knew TN would love this post, too!

    And as far as I’m concerned, crème pâtissière is just vanilla puddin’.

    I tried to make stewed fruit/compote without a pan once. Very messy; I don’t recommend it. ;) I do think that I would love this compote/stewed fruit. Strawberries and rhubarb are lovely together as well.

  14. Susan

    This really sounds more my speed. I love stewed fruit. I used rubarb for the first time the other day in a pie, with strawberries. Failure! I didn’t have enough rubarb so I added more strawberries. BIG mistake! It tastes more like slightly tart strawberry jam and was so runny you couldn’t cut the pie. I knew strawberries juiced out alot with sugar, but didn’t know that about rubarb. So..I drained the filling into a jar (crisped the crust and we ate it like a jammy cookie) and will now add your orange juice, some more sugar and cook it into a compote! Thanks for this!

  15. OysterCulture

    The picture did indeed jump off the screen and like you I love the combination of rhubarb and ginger, or rhubarb and ginger plus strawberries to such an extent that I never think to branch out. Until now – that picture is speaking to me and I look forward to trying this new combination.

  16. noble pig

    Oh that sounds delish. And yeah it’s stewed but I love stewed anything. Love the cinnamon addition too.

  17. Daily Spud

    Chef Asata: do try it!

    Tangled Noodle: ah, I know you’d be interested in this one! It did occur to me that there was perhaps no other single noun descriptor for the dish in English but I kind of like to (over) analyse the other reasons too :)

    Barnaby: now that is what I call suffering for your rhubarb!

    Reeni: ah, never had rhubarb, poor you…

    Heather: oh yes, on the bread – we used to eat it that way a lot as kids

    Jenni: oh yeah, vanilla puddin’ all the way :) and when I get as far as strawberry season, they’ll go into the mix too

    Susan: oh dear, yes, rhubarb exudes a lot of juice, but good for you that you have a backup plan for the saved juices!

    OysterCulture: I was the same about rhubarb & ginger – I do love the combination and hadn’t branched out much before this myself, but happy I did…

    noble pig: yep, it’s good, whether it’s stewed or a compote :)

  18. gastroanthropologist

    potato. patato. tomato. tamato. compote. stewed.

    whatever its called it looks yummy spread on that bread. I was introduced to rhubarb quite late in life, and love it more and more each season.

  19. manuel

    I’m not allowed to use rhubarb any more……there was an incident…..people were hurt and no one got dessert…..it was all very depressing……this was at home btw…..

  20. Haley W.

    I have never tried orange with rhubarb, but now that I’ve seen it, I’ve got to have it! The color is gorgeous, and I can only imagine that the flavor matches. Awesome!

  21. Daily Spud

    gastroanthropologist: indeed, I’ve grown up with it and look forward to it every year myself

    manuel: oh dear, I hesitate to enquire further…

    Haley: oh it’s good alright :)

  22. Navita

    love reading u as always…and oh I love rhubarbs…and sadly I have had them just once in my life..(yet!)….

    and I loved ur Elvis bread (above) too…thought it would be flamboyant like Sir Priesley too…;p

  23. Daily Spud

    Thanks Navita! Hopefully there will be more rhubarb in your future :)

  24. Oisin

    Lovely. Rhubarb at the end of the garden is looking like it’s time to start using to make it grow a bit more. Since I’m the only rhubarb-eater in the house (philistines!) I’m going to enjoy this on my own.

    BTW – my captcha test has the words “Pelvic Prints”.

  25. Daily Spud

    Oisin, lmao. I am abdicating all responsibility for the phrases that my captcha produces (but still waiting for the day it comes up with “rhubarb, rhubarb” :) )

  26. Sweta

    I tried rhubarb for the first time after seeing the Rhubarb Compote recipe on 5 Star Foodie’s blog and now I’m a big fan!Will have to try this now:)

  27. Daily Spud

    Hi Sweta and welcome! Rhubarb is great stuff – hope you enjoy this variation :)

  28. Sister Catherine Yaskiw

    growing up always enjoyed rhubarb and it is still a favorite, stewed, compote or straight up in the sugar bowl its all terrific to me. an ultimate favorite my mom used to make for me were rhubarb perogies(dumpling) , any suggestions and recipes would be welcomed.

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