What fruit do you think of when July rolls around? For me, the month starts with raspberries, moves on to blueberries, and rounds out with peaches... and I love 'em all. For some people, though, July means cherries.
I've never ranked cherries as one of my favorite fruits, strangely enough. I never quite developed a taste for them raw and sweet and juicy, and though I sort of liked cherry flavor in things, I suspect that was an artificial liking for a chemically-concocted sort of cherry pseudo-flavor.
Recently, though, I've come to appreciate dried cherries, especially in baking anything that also includes chocolate, almonds, coconut, or any combination thereof. I especially like them in my homemade granola or in scones, but they're pretty nice in cookies or biscotti, too.
So in planning for this year's farmers' market, I told myself I'd better keep my eyes open for cherries so that I could bring them home and dry a bunch for this winter's baking.
When I spotted the dark sweet cherries at the Berry Farmer's stand yesterday morning, my cash was running low, and I thought I might have to pass them by this week. But once I got home and realized I needed to head back, I stopped for more money and made sure I got a quart of those beauties.
I worked through all the produce to be frozen and enjoyed a light lunch before turning my attention to the cherries. Never having worked with them before, I wasn't quite sure how to prepare them for drying, but working on the premise that cherries are stone fruit, I trailed my knife around the pit, pried the halves apart, and popped out the stone inside.
Easy enough work, and after a while the repetition becomes almost meditative. It does, however, get messy, and it wasn't long before my fingertips were dripping dark red cherry juice, leaving my fingernails stained for the rest of the day. But hey, I'm not bothered by such minor details if it means I'm going to end up with good food!
I spread the cherry halves over a parchment-lined baking sheet, ready to dry in the oven (set to the lowest possible temperature, 170 F... still higher than what my book on drying foods calls for, but it does dry the fruits more quickly).
With occasional stirring, they slowly dried throughout the day, and I left them in the oven overnight, the heat off but the door closed, to finish drying. When I pulled them out this morning, all but a few were ready to pack away, dried and leathery and full of concentrated flavor.
Since I ended up with less than a cup of dried cherries, I'm sure I'll need to repeat this procedure next week with a couple more quarts of local cherries. But I think I can handle that.
In the meantime, I decided to learn to like cherries even more by sampling the Original Organic Farmer's chocolate cherry pie:
I've never been a fan of cherry pie (I know, how un-American of me!) or chocolate-covered cherries, but somehow, this works for me. Sweet-tart cherries, rich fudgy chocolate, crisp crust... yeah, I think I can live with that. I shared some with my Fabulous Aunt and Uncle, and they both agreed that it was a fine dessert.
And speaking of cherries and my Fabulous Aunt and Uncle, they brought me a little hostess gift:
About four cups of tart cherries! Now what do I do? I suspect that early in the week I'll end up making a cherry-almond cake or a cherry-berry cobbler or some such thing, but if anyone has any suggestions, I'm willing to listen! (Jam, maybe?)
In the meantime, I guess I'll just cherry on...