I give myself very good advice,
but I very seldom follow it.
-Alice in Wonderland
Alice and I have that in common. Remember how I JUST SAID to get your cherries squared away within 24 hours of picking? Well I didn't do that. I picked all the stems off of a pretty sizable batch, washed them, and then got lazy and stuck them in the fridge over night. The next morning they were all yuckish.
|See how they've all started turning brown near where the stem was?|
I have been looking for some other ways to preserve fruits that come out of the yard. Jellies and jams are great, don't get me wrong. I just have to wonder how many jars we possibly need? Even using them in yogurt, baking, on top of ice cream, for breakfast, as Christmas gifts, as thank you gifts, as housewarming and wedding and birthday gifts... I still have tons left over.
There's also something about taking delicious fresh fruit, smothering it in sugar, and turning it into a calorie laden condiment that irks me just a smidge. I'll still be making jam from now till kingdom come, absolutely, but I want to explore some other preservation concepts as well.
Because I don't hate myself, I don't let my toddler snack on jam. Raisins, though? They're a pretty tasty, two-year-old friendly, high fiber nosh. So maybe I can fool him with some dried cherries...
|Washed, pitted, and placed on tinfoil lined oven racks.|
I don't currently have a dehydrator, although I recently saw one at our local Habitat for Humanity Re-store that might be coming to live with me. In the meantime, our little convection oven does the trick. If you're doing this in a big oven, I would recommend making sure that you're doing a pretty large load; this is going to take several hours, and thus a good bit of energy. Don't go hiking up your electric bill for 25 dried cherries.
Aside from cleaning the cherries and removing stems and pits, no extra prep is required. Gotta love that. Should you happen to have an oven rack that you can put the cherries directly on (i.e. one that's a fine mesh, or has drainage holes in it) absolutely go for it. Just be sure to stick a tray at the bottom to catch the juice. Your drying time will be a couple of hours less, but it's likely to be a huge mess. Your call.
|Locked and loaded.|
I used two oven racks lined in tin foil, and one baking sheet also lined. The baking sheet, however, ended up taking a few hours more to finish drying. I set my oven for about 225 (which, in my oven, brings the actual internal temp to 200) and let it coast for seeeeeeveral hours. We're talking in the 8-10 range.
|About halfway through. Smells like |
At this point I started nabbing a cherry or two every time I checked on them, just to see how they'd taste. I don't think I clarified in this post that I'm using sour cherries for this. I kind of thought (hoped?) that the drying process would sweeten them up. On the contrary. Think craisins are tart? They ain't got NOTHIN on these little bastards. Good thing Child Beast likes puckery treats.
|This is what you're after.|
Since they were so tart, and also partly because they're kind of sticky, I opted to lightly sprinkle them with sugar. They were still pretty damn sour after that. Hubs suggested storing them in mason jars packed with sugar. So I put a thin layer of sugar on the bottom of a 4 oz mason jar, and then packed in the dried cherries.
I then put another thin layer of sugar on top, closed the lid, and shook it all around. That's what it's all about!
Tah dah! Okay, so I guess this kind of strays from my intent of a low sugar Boo snack. But just so we're clear, I don't intend to toss him one of these jars and wish him luck. I'm hoping that some of the sweetness will absorb into the cherries. Then the sugar can be discarded (or used for baking...maybe with a few dried cherries tossed in?) and just the cherry snacked on. I dunno, I'm going to have to get back to you on that.
I also bought some agave nectar yesterday, because I was reading about the dangers of refined sugar. And by 'dangers', I mean getting fat. Or at least that's the only thing that the book in question was concerned with. However it offered up that white sugar is only sweet. Agave nectar and some other natural sweeteners (NATURAL...not that artifical kill-you-dead crap) are sweet, and have nutritional value. So I thought, hey, we can at least give it a shot, right?
I digress. I think I'm going to do another batch or two of these, and I might try agave or just natural honey drizzled on the cherries before drying them. I'll report back on that as well. In the meantime, Boo thinks they're the bees knees, they'll make a pretty interesting addition to the Christmas baskets if they make it that long, and I bet they'll be delicious in some cookies or muffins. I'll log back in any new ideas I come up with for these tart little gems!