Janet the Australian of Brisbane, who writes The Old Foodie, the consistently engrossing food and cooking history blog, reminds us how words and their meanings get fuzzy as they move through time and cultures. Today she wrote about a 17th century banquet given in honor of Pope Innocent the XI (Wow. Why would any pope, feel the need to call himself Innocent? Weird.) wherein composed salads of fruits and vegetables called compostes were served, and she observed that
[Composte] was already an old word to describe a ‘composition’ or combination of ingredients – as in the modern use of the word to describe a mix of garden refuse in the process of melting down into rich soil. We do still use it in a culinary sense too – although we use the Frenchified version: the little accent mark over the second ‘o’ in compôte indicates the loss of a letter ‘s’. So there you are – next time you have a fruit compote you are really having a modern version of compost.
(Or is that composte? It damn well better be.)
In my experience, these types of salads are not called compotes so much anymore. Rather they are referred to as salade composée by francophonic chefs and composed salads by others.