A Boke of Gode Cookery Presents

Perys en Composte

PERIOD: England, 15th century | SOURCE: Harleian MS. 279 | CLASS: Authentic

DESCRIPTION: Pears in wine and spices


.xxxv. Perys en Composte. Take Wyne an Canel, & a gret dele of Whyte Sugre, an set it on þe fyre & hete it hote, but let it nowt boyle, an draw it þorwe a straynoure; þan take fayre Datys, an pyke owt þe stonys, an leche hem alle þinne, an caste þer-to; þanne take Wardonys, an pare hem and sethe hem, an leche hem alle þinne, & caste þer-to in-to þe Syryppe; þanne take a lytil Sawnderys, and caste þer-to, an sette it on þe fyre; an yif þow hast charde quynce, caste þer-to in þe boyling, an loke þat it stonde wyl with Sugre, an wyl lyid wyth Canel, an caste Salt þer-to, an let it boyle; an þan caste yt on a treen vessel, & lat it kele, and serue forth.

- Austin, Thomas. Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books. Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS. 4016, with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS 55. London: for The Early English Text Society by N. Trübner & Co., 1888. 


Pears in Compote. Take wine and cinnamon, & a great deal of white sugar, and set it on the fire and heat it hot, but don't let boil, and strain; then take fair dates, and pick out the stones, and cut thin, & add; then take pears, and pare them and boil them, and cut them in thin slices, and place in the syrup; then take a little sandalwood, and add, and set it on the fire; and if you have quinces, add them, and look that it stand well with sugar, and well laid with cinnamon, and add salt, and let it boil; and put it in a wooden container, & let it cool, and serve.


  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 Tbs. cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/2 cup sliced dates
  • 4-6 pears, peeled, cored, and sliced thin
  • pinch salt
  • drop or two of red food coloring
Boil the pears until they are tender but not too soft; drain well. In a separate pan heat together the wine, cinnamon, and sugar. Remove from heat, strain the mixture to remove the cinnamon (I recommend using a sieve or China cap lined with cheesecloth or paper towels), then return to the fire. When hot, add the dates, pears, salt, and food coloring. Bring to a boil, allow to cook together for several minutes, then remove from heat. Place pears and wine in a wooden dish and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Our modern pears, which can be purchased fresh from the grocery store, are softer & sweeter than the type available to the Medieval cook, and don't need to be boiled to soften before cutting; I also find cutting cooked, soft pears a little inconvenient. To "pare" (from the Latin parare - to prepare) means to either "pare" (remove outer skin) or "to prepare;" I have thus chosen "to prepare" my pears by slicing before boiling.

Composte is an Old French word meaning "stewed fruit."

Wardonys were a type of English pear common in the Middle Ages - feel free to substitute any slightly hard, not-too-sweet variety.

Sawnderys, or sandalwood, was used primarily by Medieval cooks as a red food dye. It can taste rather nasty if not used properly, and is only recommend for authenticity's sake. Red food coloring is much cheaper and easier to find.

Metric, Celsius, & Gas Mark Equivalencies

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Perys en Composte © 2000 James L. Matterer

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