TO the lovely city of Porto to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. Mrs Smeddle has put up with enough over the past decade; a celebration is overdue. I feel quietly confident that we will develop a deep fondness for the famous northern coastal town.

Wool traders from these shores journeyed to Porto to seek trade in the 18th century but unintentionally established cultural links that still survive today. They also secured a third off the import tax, at the time, for the local wines coming home. So began an enduring British love affair with port.

I suspect many don’t give port a second thought until Christmas, when they might get some in. Certainly the wine’s viscous, jammy fruit is comforting in winter but it is a crucial ingredient for cooking all year round.

While I do occasionally turn to white or tawny varieties, ruby port is the go-to choice. Boiled so it reduces, increasing its inky intensity for sauces, the sweet, winy depths are also good for marinating meats before braising.

But it stands as an ingredient in its own right. I recall being shocked, then delighted, to be served half a melon as a starter once on a baking Portugal afternoon: the melon’s seeds were scooped out and the cavity filled with chilled port, which sounds rich but was surprisingly refreshing. In fact it is often in dessert that port can surprise you the most. The icy crystals of a frozen granita can sooth while figs or pears poached in ruby port offer autumnal comfort.

Port granita

Recipes serve four

750ml water

250ml ruby port

2 cloves

1 juniper berry, crushed

A sprig of thyme

300g caster sugar


1. Start this the day before you want to serve the granita, to allow time to freeze.

2. Place the port in a saucepan large enough to hold all the other ingredients later. Add cloves, juniper, thyme and sugar then place of a gentle heat. Slowly warm, stirring from time to time so the sugar dissolves.

3. Once sugar has dissolved, bring the port to a simmer then remove from the heat at once.

4. Add the water and stir briefly to mix then stand to cool. Once cool, pass through a fine sieve into a Tupperware tub or freezer-proof container. You want the level of the liquid to be no more than half way or two thirds up the tub.

5. Transfer the tub of liquid to the freezer to set. After about 90 minutes to two hours, carefully remove from the freezer, taking care in case it is not fully set yet and is still slightly loose. Using a fork, rake over the surface to break it up into the distinctive icy crystals of a granita. Return to the freezer and leave for a further two hours. Do this roughly every couple of hours (there is no need to be too precise) until it is frozen and set. This will store, covered with a lid, in the freezer for up to two weeks.

6. To serve, remove from freezer at the point of serving and use the fork once more to rake and churn the surface into ice crystals. Either serve on its own in glass bowls as a refreshing way to end a meal or with sliced fruit.

Pears and figs poached in ruby port

4 pears

6 ripe figs

750ml ruby port

Caster sugar to taste (2-3 dstsp)

1 orange

1 lemon

A piece of cinnamon about an inch long

1 piece of star anise

2 cloves


1. Place the port in a medium saucepan that will be able to hold the pears in a snug fashion later. Add the cinnamon, star anise and cloves and half the sugar and bring to the boil. Simmer for two minutes then remove from the heat.

2. With a swivel-head peeler, remove two strips of zest from the orange and one from the lemon. Add these to the port and set the orange and lemon aside for other uses. Leave to stand and infuse for 10 minutes.

3. Now peel the pears with a swivel-head peeler, keeping the shape of the fruit intact. Add these to the port then return to the heat and poach until the pears and tender, about 15 minutes.

4. While the pears are poaching, snip the hard top off the figs with scissors and make a cross in the base of the figs with the tip of a small knife. When the pears are nearly done, add the figs to the port and poach gently while the pears finish off. Remove pan from the heat then allow to stand so the pears and figs cool in the liquid.

5. Once cold, remove pears one at a time from the liquid. Cut in half then cut each half into three or four pieces and trim out the core then return the fruit to the liquid. Store in the liquid in an airtight container. This can be made up to three days in advance and refrigerated.

6. Served at room temperature or warmed. Either way, divide the fruit between four serving bowls and spoon a little liquid over the fruit then serve at once, perhaps with clotted cream.

Geoffrey Smeddle is the chef patron of The Peat Inn, By St Andrews, Fife KY15 5LH 01334 840206