winter fruit salad

Are fruit salads one of these things that I assume everyone in the world makes, but really, it is just my family? It could be, but I still think they’re essential. There is nothing better to break up a brunch of cheesy baked eggs and breakfast bread puddings, and dessert courses that seem to be a chain of pies, gooey brownies and cakes than than a big bowl of fruit. Of course, a bowl of whole fruit rarely works as anything but a centerpiece, and this is where the salad part comes in.

five pears, one apple

In the summer, it is a cinch–berries are flawless and everywhere, not to mention mangoes and cantaloupes and watermelon. But unless you want to buy imperfect, frighteningly overpriced berries with thousands of food miles on their backs, fall and winter can make something as simple as chopped fruit kind of dull.

dried figs and apricots
embarrassed bosc pears

I adapted this one–which I brought to the loveliest brunch yesterday, along with those scones–from a lovely Amanda Hesser article now almost seven years old where she maps out a Christmas brunch that can be entirely prepared the day before, as all brunch foods should be, in my opinion. My best friend’s mother has made the original version of the fruit salad every December 25th, but at home, I like to punch it up a bit, adding pomegranate seeds, lemon juice and dialing back the sugar. Nevertheless, it remains a mellow, almost soothing bowl of fruit, a perfect complement to all of those cold winter mornings ahead.

ready to soak

Two years ago: Jacked-Up Banana Bread

Winter Fruit Salad

3/4 cup sugar
3 star anise
1/2 of plump vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
8 dried Turkish apricots, cut in half
4 dried figs, quartered
4 2-inch long pieces lemon zest (peeled with a vegetable peeler) from a Meyer lemon if you can find one
Juice of the zest lemon
3 firm Bosc pears
1 firm tart apple
Seeds from half a pomegranate

1. Fill a medium saucepan with 4 cups water. Add the sugar, star anise, vanilla bean and lemon zest. Bring to a boil, and cook until all the sugar is dissolved. Let it cool for just a few minutes (it should still be hot) and then stir in the dried figs and apricots. Let it cool completely.

2. Meanwhile, peel and core pears and apple. Slice thinly lengthwise and place in a large bowl, and toss with the lemon juice.

3. Once the syrup with dried fruit has cooled, pour it over the apples and pears. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill it overnight in the refrigerator.

4. The next morning, using a slotted spoon, ladle the fruit into a serving bowl, sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and serve. Remove the vanilla beans (you can rinse and save what is left of them for another use) and lemon peels if you wish, or leave them in for decoration.

Do ahead Syrup can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for a day or two. Hot syrup can be poured over the dried fruit and kept in the fridge for a day or so. Prepared salad keeps in the fridge for a day or two, but is best fresh.

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110 comments on winter fruit salad

  1. Deb, fruit salad is one of those things that I always INTEND to make, but rarely do. Particularly in the winter.

    This, though, is inspirational. I may just have to see what I can find in season in CO and give this a whirl. Something tells me I will have to cheat and look beyond the borders of this fine state, unless my fruit salad is going to be all apples…and frozen peaches from this summer!

  2. Trish

    Count me (and my family) among the fruit salad makers and eaters. Yours looks lovely; I plan to serve it when my family comes to spend Thanksgiving with me in Brooklyn. Thanks for yet another yummy recipe!!

  3. Susan

    Wow..this salad sounds really, really good. I love fruit with a meal. I always serve, at least, one or two types cut up and put in individual fruit bowls. At the very least, I serve applesauce, and there’s nothing easier to make while the rest of the meal is cooking. We love dried fruits too, but they don’t make it in as often, they’re more snack foods for us. I grew up with fruit served at meals..and so I have kept the habit for my family. It’s a very healthy habit to get into.

  4. deb, a request for those of us in the southern hemisphere moving into summer… your site becomes frustrating! Hahahahah I’m over soup and pies! I’m ready to move into summer food, although cakes and cookies will never go out of season! Can you start tagging your recepies with the season that most fits them? That way as we enter into spring here, we can indulge looking at your autumn feasts but also do a search on spring and find inspiring things to cook right now… just a thought….

  5. I am adding that to my Christmas brunch spread.

    I often make this in winter:

    2 red grapefruits
    4 oranges (all peeled whole, de-pithed and cut into rounds)
    dried cranberries
    Combine in small saucepan: 1 T sugar or honey, juice of half a lime, a little cardamon, lime zest, 1 T water, heat until melted, toss salad gently.

    I make it the night before and garnish with mint leaves. So much vitamin C!

  6. My family almost always had fruit salad at dinner, it’s my mother’s favorite thing. Virtually every evening my mother will say “I’m going to make a nice fruit salad!” and my father responds with “what a novel concept!”, then she pouts just the tiniest bit.

  7. Marie

    What you call “winter fruit salads we called “fruit compotes”. I think they’re popular in Jewish/Russian/Eastern Europian homes? Love them. I used almost any fruit. Try Mandiran oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, rasins, prunes, drid apricots. Oh dear, my mouth is watering. Also, I remember using pickled fruit to decorate my Thanksgiving turkey. Pickled beets, pickled peaches, pickled anything. Shocked the Irish in-laws.

  8. My mother also used to make fruit salad at least 3 times a week, as a dessert. We just put any fruit in it, pears, tangerines and walnuts in automn, melon and strawberries in the summer, etc… It’s a great way to make everyone eat the 5 recommanded fruits/vegetables a day. And we don’t add any sugar, just letting the fruits marinate in their juices is enough.
    This is our typical saturday lunch dessert. Well, except for this Saturday, when I baked the Salted butter caramel chocolate cake again (I finally posted the recipe, found it after your post on Paris). Everyone raved about it. I hope you’ll try it and like it too!

  9. LOVE the addition of pomegranate seeds. And thanks for all the make-ahead steps. I just realized last night that Thanksgiving is next week. Umm, wha?! I so am not ready. Thank goodness for a certain persons recipe archive that will save the day. SCORE!

  10. This is beautiful. Coming from a Korean-American background, we always had fresh fruit either at the end of a meal or in the middle of the table during the meal. Starting with a fruit salad like this sounds like a great tradition!
    It might help stave off some calories from all of the recipes I plan (hope) to make from the December issue of Bon Appetit!!

    BTW, those Anchor Hocking bowls are in my Amazon cart, just waiting for me to hit ‘send’!!

  11. Rachel

    Long-time reader, first-time poster.
    I love that you love fruit salads. Growing up, my mother ALWAYS made “fruit cups” for meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, whatever). Fruit cups in our house were any fruit that we had on hand, cut up and put in those Pyrex custard cups with a little citrus juice and/or sugar added. When I started off on my own, I still made fruit cups, which apparently perplexed my future husband (he couldn’t figure out how it fit with the rest of the meal) until he came to dinner at my parents’ house where my mom served a fruit cup with dinner. Now he loves them.
    I love this combination in your post, which means a stop at the store for frest vanilla beans and a couple more pears. My favorite winter fruit salad is grapefruit slices that have been supremed so there isn’t any membranes, a little sugar to cut the grapefruit acid, toasted coconut flakes, and pomegranite seeds. So beautiful and so delicious.
    Keep on writing as I love to read your blog!

  12. Love it! I have fruit salads every morning for breakfast — I really believe in starting off the day with a light, healthy meal. Thanks for sharing this recipe! When I make it I may add dried dates as well (super nutritious!). Love your site and your photos are always beautiful :)

  13. I’m a huge fan of fruit salad, especially as a breakfast item, and this time of year is always a tough time for fruit, as you mention. I’m looking forward to trying this one – perhaps adding it to our thanksgiving meal this year.

  14. I love fruit salad and happen to agree with you that it’s one of the very best things to break up a heavy meal. I frequently volunteer to bring the fruit salad to get togethers so I know I can have one! This sounds like a perfectly lovely accompaniment to a winter gathering. I might even add a splash of brandy…

  15. frances

    I live in UK and have never come accross a Meyer lemon. Please explain the difference and how I can compensate for not being able to use them. I love your site btw!

  16. deb

    Meyer lemons are mellower and a bit sweeter, with almost floral notes. Although they have a better taste, a lot of grocers don’t want to bother stocking them because they are softer and don’t last as long as the varieties we usually see.

    You can substitute any lemon for the Meyer lemon. The recipe says to use one only if you can find it.

  17. Dominique

    This combines many of my favorite things and looks delicious. One question – how many servings does it yield? I live alone, so I don’t want to make too much.

  18. I think your family is the only one that makes fruit salads for everything but I think it’s really cool that you grew up that way. Do you make a fruit salad for every season?

  19. wes

    We love to have fruit salad! It’s great when there are going to be kids, since sometimes that’s all some of them will eat (picky eaters!). I tend to the non-whipped cream type fruit salad and during the winter there are all those great citrus fruits available. Seasonal fruit and dried fruits combine for great salads.

  20. Question: What if, at this late date, I can’t get star anise in time for Thanksgiving? Or, um, if I am making fruit salad for a bunch of people whose fondness for strong licorice flavors is questionable at best? Can I leave the star anise out, or could you recommend a substitute?

  21. Tonia

    christie try a couple of cinnamon sticks instead of the star anise — that’s what I’m going to do as I’m not real big on licorice flavors! Thanks for the great pear recipe — will add this to the thanksgiving meal!

  22. Made this for Thanksgiving — I did not, in fact, find star anise, but I used 1.5 teaspoons of aniseed instead. It added a light anise flavor that (IMO) was a nice foil to the sweetness of the vanilla. I bet cinnamon sticks would have been great, too — thanks, Tonia. Everyone LOVED this salad, and it was the only non-carb, non-sauced-up item on the table. I was glad to have a lighter option. Thank you, Deb! (FWIW, I used bulk dried apricots and dried Mission figs from the baking aisle.)

  23. Michellers

    Is the star anise dried, because that’s all I could find–even though they looked really cool, I removed them prior to serving because I was afraid someone would take a bite. The salad was delicious, however, and would have been even better if I had remembered the pomegranate seeds that I had so carefully and painfully extracted.

  24. Bethany

    Added some cracked cardamom pods to the syrup – just cause I love them. I did find that the pears got kind of mushy after soaking overnight. Does anyone have a remedy for this? Also, couldn’t find dred figs – Trader Joe’s was out, and bygod, I was not making a 3rd trip to the grocery store. So did dried cherries instead, which tasted great, but lost some of their color to the soaking process. All in all – the bridal shower loved it. Yum.

  25. This looks like just the thing to make for my in-laws. This, the sour cream bran muffins (they are BIG fans of those) and whatever goodness you decide to share tomorrow. Thanks for planning my meals once again!

  26. Renee C

    I’m so glad to see someone making an in-season fruit salad! In the winter, I always use apples and oranges, never melon. Melon and strawberries are for summers when they are locally in season. So many people do not seem to know this.

  27. Debbie

    Served this fruit salad this morning at Christmas breakfast, & it was amazing! It was fun to make, so great to be able to prep ahead, & absolutely beautiful & yummy with our stuffed french toast. THANK YOU! This is definitely one I will make over & over again! (oh, & btw, used fresh figs cuz we love them – they were great.)

  28. Megan

    This was a subtle and just lovely salad. It will be a regular.

    The pomegranate seeds were a necessary addition – otherwise, the salad looked a little anemic.

  29. Debra

    This salad was fun to make and very delicious. It no doubt would have been even better had I sprung for whole vanilla bean – I used vanilla extract. The bartlett pears I used were just past the firm stage so I put them in the syrup just a few hours before serving so they wouldn’t get mushy.

    I also decreased the sugar to 1/2 cup. The syrup makes a nice sweetener for hot tea.

  30. Beth

    I made this for Christmas breakfast, and we really enjoyed it. I used a cinnamon stick instead of star anise, and I think it worked really well! There was a nice hint of spice in the salad, but not overpowering at all. As my dad said, “it tastes different, but familiar.” It was really helpful to have the make-ahead directions as well.

  31. Elizabeth Ramborger

    I also made this for Xmas breakfast this year, and it was a HUGE hit with my boyfriend’s mother. It was easy to make and visually impressive. Thanks for sharing! I’ll definately be making it again.

  32. Anjali

    I made this for New Year’s Day brunch and it was a hit. I used the still good vanilla bean to flavor some greek yogurt that I served alongside the fruit salad, and I saved the drained off syrup in a jar in the fridge. I second Debra who is sweetening her hot tea with the’s a lovely addition to english breakfast.

  33. Paige

    I made this fruit salad for a brunch this weekend, and I had a bunch of left over marinated pom seeds in the bottom of the bowl. I popped a few of them into my mouth and then thought: my boo would love some cake! So I made your buttermilk cake and used these pom seeds instead of the summery raspberries. It is a delicious wintertime sub. And I don’t even like cake!

    Thanks, Deb, for inspiring me to bake!!!

  34. starr

    maybe i can have this on my birthday.

    that is the only way i can justify buying figs AND pomegranates AND other fruit as well. no one else will eat it (they are all against figs for some strange reason).

  35. Leslie

    Last night a friend brought this salad to a New Years Eve party we both attended. It was amazing. Gorgeous to look at and simply delicious. The figs were especially delightful ~ plumped up and flavorful with the unique taste of the syrup. I got up this morning and first thing found the recipe on the web and bookmarked it so I can make it for my family.

  36. Sarah

    One question: the ingredients call for 3 bosc pears, but in your photograph, there are 5. Did you make the recipe with 3 or 5? 3 seems like a pretty small quantity. I’m making it for a brunch tomorrow! Excited! Thanks!

  37. Nica

    Wanted to follow-up since making & eating this salad. Served it on Super Bowl Sunday with a homemade pound cake, and it was a terrific combination of flavors and textures. AND I have now discovered the versatility of dried figs. Thank you !

  38. stephanie

    I made this salad last weekend and because of some last minute guest cancellations, not as many ate it as I expected. We loved it, but I was wary of storing it, so I put the whole thing, minus the pomegranate seeds, into a pot and boiled it down and through the food mill into a pear – apple sauce. It was spectacular and I love knowing that the leftovers have new life. Thanks!

  39. Ann

    Made this for a potluck brunch this weekend and it was wonderful! As other commenters have said, the leftover syrup is great for a variety of uses. I especially enjoyed it with bourbon and a slash of soda.

  40. Gretchen

    This was very delicious! My boyfriend’s mother kept the leftovers! I made it with 3 cinnamon sticks rather than anise stars, because I really hate the licorice taste. Next time, I’d use 4 sticks.

  41. YUM! my mouth is watering and I can almost smell the star anise and cinnamon just looking at your pictures.. I’m definitely making this tomorrow when I wake up! Greeting from Egypt :) in love with your beautiful cooking :)

  42. Tig

    I made this last weekend for a brunch and it was delicious. I saved the leftovers in a bit of the syrup so it wouldn’t get to soggy and it just got better and better each day that went by. I kept the skins on the fruit for color and tossed in some walnuts which go marvelously with figs!! A perfect salad for winter when you are trying to cook with the seasonal bounty!

  43. Elyse

    Just sent my mom and grandmother off after a lovely brunch of this fruit salad with your baked eggs and cold-brewed iced coffee. I reserved the leftover syrup to add to my daily thermos(es) of hot tea. Wonderful!

  44. bethtanya

    I didn’t have a pomegranate but threw in some raw cranberries with the dried fruit soaked. They added a nice tart note, which I think this needs.

    1. deb

      Yes. You can put a round of parchment on the surface of the liquid to try to keep the fruit under it, if needed. (It keeps things from floating above the liquid’s surface.)

  45. Trushna

    Hi! I just made this over the weekend. My husband loves anise and I love pomegranate, and this salad combines both and looks pretty too. Just one question – could we cut the pears and apple in small chunks or smaller slices, or will that mess with the syrup-absorption? I ask because I found the thin, long slices a bit difficult to eat & serve with the smaller pieces of figs, apricots and pomegranate seeds. I couldn’t decide whether to serve it with a fork or spoon, and I like the individual components of my salads to all have about the same size for even flavor distribution and easy mouthfuls. Sorry, hope I’m not being too picky.

  46. Debbie

    I have made this several times and it is always well received. I find that leftovers keep well, refrigerated, for 2-3 days. I have reused the syrup for a second batch with good results. I especially like to serve it for breakfast topped with plain Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of granola.

  47. Lindsay

    I’m thinking of making this for an afternoon baby shower this fall. Should I still combine everything to hang out overnight in the frig (meaning the fruit will be soaking for 18-ish hours) or should I start the soak early morning the day of the shower? Thanks!

  48. Sara

    I just rediscovered this dish and it was the total hit I remember at brunch, BUT I’m compelled to comment since I just put it on top of oatmeal made with coconut milk and it is, almost definitely, one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Take half for your friends, but leave half in the fridge for tomorrow!

  49. Amy

    My aunt made this for Thanksgiving and it was amazing. The rehydrated dried fruit was so deliciously chewy. I’m planning on making it for Christmas brunch!

  50. lori

    i just wanted to say that i made this twice, with some changes for ingredient availability, for a friend who had a baby on dec 15th. both she and her husband loved it. he actually referred to the dish as “crack.” thanks for helping me to help some brand new parents.

  51. MelissaBKB

    Just wanted to say that I’ve been making this for our big family post-Thanksgiving brunch for the last five years – it was a hit the first year and now it’s tradition! The anise gives it a really grown-up feel, and makes it truly “wintery”. I always forget the pomegranate seeds so it’s fine without. And I usually drain most of the syrup before serving.

  52. Julia

    I’m having a New Years brunch tomorrow and using several of your recipes, including this one. I’ve just made the syrup to go over the salad and holy crap does it smell good. I have some in my hands and I can’t stop sniffing them! This should be a perfume. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to work with real vanilla beans and star anise. This is just gorgeous. I bought Korean pears and gala apples to go in the salad, and I think it’s going to be wonderful.

  53. Carly

    I was thinking of making this for a brunch I’m hosting. I was wondering if the fruits soften up a bit while soaking overnight? I don’t necessarily enjoy a crunchy fruit salad (love summer/berries/kiwis/etc type). Thanks!

  54. Cindy

    I was supposed to have friends over for brunch a few weeks ago and planned to serve this fruit salad. They had to cancel the day before because their son was sick, but I made this anyway. I had forgotten the dried apricots, but I honestly didn’t miss them. This was so good, I ate it for the next three days with or after almost every meal. I think my favorite part are the softened, slightly sweetened and vanilla-infused figs. I love figs, but I could eat those figs all day. Another winner! We have tentatively rescheduled brunch for a few weeks from now and I am definitely making again if they come.

    1. Cindy

      I made yesterday morning and and we ate it yesterday afternoon. I left out the pomegranate seeds, as I found them distracting from the rest of the fruit. I did however remember the apricots and the whole thing was delicious and a bit hit. I have leftovers, which I am so upset about (not at all). I also cut the fruit into smaller slices so it would be easier to eat. I want to drink the that syrupy goodness, so I might add it to some tea. Such a good recipe!!

  55. Melissa

    Just read this recipe (after my second, apparently extremely judgmental glass of an excellent vinho verde), and all I can think is “oh Deb. Look at how far you’ve come!”

    (Annnnd then I remember I made chipped beef gravy on toast for breakfast today, and am once again reminded that there is nothing more boring than a food snob… )