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In my house, excess fruit means one of two things: stewed fruit or jam. Most of the time, stewed fruit wins out because it’s much easier and uses far less sugar. It’s a really versatile thing to have in the fridge, ready to stir through desserts and cakes or to top off a bowl of oatmeal or yoghurt at breakfast time.
Often, stewed fruit is made on the stove, which requires careful attention and stirring so it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. It also runs the risk of turning to mush because of all that stirring.
There is an easier way, though! Today I’m going to give you a set of guidelines for my two favorite methods to make stewed fruit, either in a slow cooker or a steam oven. Both methods need minimal effort once you’ve got the fruit chopped and into the oven or cooker, so they’re a great set-and-forget dish to have cooking away while you do other things around the house.
The example fruit I used for today’s photos was a few pears, mixed with maple syrup and a touch of cinnamon, though you can stew almost any fruit following the tips below.
How to stew fruit in a slow cooker
Cooking or stewing fruit in a slow cooker is exactly what it says on the box – slow – but the benefit is being able to pop some fruit on in the morning or at lunchtime and come back to perfectly stewed fruit later in the day.
To make the best slow cooker or crockpot stewed fruit, follow these tips:
The type of fruit doesn’t matter too much, it just alters the time it’ll take to cook. Apples and pears will take somewhere around 4 hours on low heat, while softer stone fruits and rhubarb about 2-3 hours, depending on how much is in the pot, ripeness and how soft you want your stewed fruit to end up.
Choose fruit that’s got some firmness to it. You want it to be ripe but not too ripe, or it’ll disintegrate pretty quickly once it heats up. Slow cooking is actually a great way to turn fruit that’s a little too hard into something soft and sweet, as the low heat helps the fruit enzymes, which soften the flesh, work for longer.
Cut your fruit into large bite-sized pieces. Peel any tough skins before cooking and cut out any bruises as these can make the whole pot taste a bit musty after cooking.
Add about 2 tbs of sugar and 2 tbs water per pound (half kilo) of fruit, for a not-too-sweet stew that’s perfect for breakfast or a healthy snack. You’ll need more sugar for very tart fruits or if you want to create a jammy consistency, and more water if you’d like a lot of juice at the end of cooking.
Spices such as vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves are lovely with stewed fruit, as are fresh basil and rosemary (rhubarb and rosemary is a total winner - don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!). Fresh ginger is another favorite. Add just a small amount of your chosen flavouring, especially in the case of dried spices, as the intensity will build with the long cooking time.
How to stew fruit in a steam oven
Steam oven stewed fruit takes a similar time to the traditional stovetop method, however it can be done with little to no water and relatively less sugar.
The combination of less sugar, less water, a contained environment and a faster cooking time gives you a finished dish that retains more nutrients than other methods, and tastes deeply of the fruit you’re cooking.
Follow these guidelines for perfect steam oven stewed fruit:
Stew your fruit using the steam-only setting in your oven, set to 100°C/212°F. Spread the fruit out in a fairly shallow layer, preferably in a thin stainless steel pan, so it heats quickly and evenly. If you don’t have a stainless steel pan, a wide cast iron pot will be your next best thing, as it’ll conduct heat well once it’s warmed through.
Peel, deseed or stone your fruit (no need to peel stone fruit), removing any blemishes or bruises, then cut into bite sized pieces or slices for cooking.
You can add a little sugar, honey or maple syrup for sweetness – similar ratios to slow cooked stewed fruit apply, around 2 tbs per pound (half kilo) of fruit depending on how tart it is. I rarely add water to steam oven stewed fruit as the cooking method allows for the natural juices of the fruit to leach out and help the cooking process without diluting flavor.
Apples, firm pears and rhubarb will take about 15 minutes to become tender but still holding shape, longer if you want them to be breaking down. Stone fruits and rhubarb will take closer to 10 minutes.
Don’t rely on your eyes to check for doneness. If you’ve cooked it for a good while, chances are the fruit will break up easily as you stir it. Keep an eye on the cooking and test a small piece by pushing it with a spoon to check for softness.
Firmer fruits like apples, pears and barely ripe firm stone fruits hold their shape well when stewed using steam, so it’s a great method for when you want to use the finished product as a filling for a pie or mix it into a cake batter.
All the same flavorings mentioned for slow cooker fruit apply here too: vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, basil, thyme and rosemary. You can be more generous with quantity, though, as the cooking process doesn’t take very long and you want to make sure the flavors get into the fruit.
What to make with stewed fruit
I love stewed plums or apricots spooned over ice cream, where the sharpness of the fruit offsets the creamy richness perfectly. They’re also great marbled into a pound cake batter or folded through a combination of whipped cream and yoghurt to make a fool for a speedy last minute dessert.
Apples, pears or rhubarb are brilliant stewed and served with oatmeal or yoghurt and granola. They’re ideal as the filling in a turnover or pie, or used as the fruit component in my little cheesecake pastries.
Stewed fruit is excellent as a savory food pairing too. Try stewing pears, apples, plums or rhubarb with just a touch of sugar, then mixing through a splash of good vinegar and some black pepper before serving as a side dish to roasted or grilled meats. Lightly stewed peaches or nectarines are delicious with a meaty white fish such as swordfish.
How to store stewed fruit
If you want to store your stewed fruit, cool it to lukewarm, then transfer to a non-reactive container (plastic, ceramic, glass or stainless steel) with a lid. Chill in the fridge, where it’ll keep for several days, or freeze for up to 6 months (it never lasts that long in my house!).
Whether you try just one of the method above, or both for the sake of comparison, I hope this guide to making easy stewed fruit in a slow cooker or a steam oven gives you the confidence and inspiration to try stewing fruit next time you have an overrun of the season’s best!
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Happy cooking, see you here again soon.