~ Culinary Jewels: Dehydrated Sour ("Pie") Cherries~
I am a fruit lover and I've been baking with dried fruits for as long as I've been baking, which is almost 40 years. I grew up watching my grandmother add dried apricots, dates and raisins to all sorts of Eastern European baked goods. I was a young mom of three small boys when the trail mix craze began. My kids liked the brand that included dried bananas, pineapple and papaya. Back in those pre-internet days, if I wanted to make homemade trail mix for our family, catalog shopping was my source for buying dried fruits and nuts, and, one of my favorite sources was American Spoon Foods, where I came across dried blueberries, cherries and cranberries. Soon afterward, I began adding them to pies, cookies and quick breads, as well as rice dishes, salads and sauces. Back in the 1980's that was considered quite creative and gourmet!
Nowadays, dried fruits are available almost everywhere, but they're still pricey: about $12.00-$15.00 a pound, depending upon what fruit your purchasing. I've never complained about cost, because, while dehydrating is super easy, it is super time consuming, and, at the end of the day, it doesn't yield a large quantity (which is a let down the first time you do it). So, for me, to buy a bag of dried fruit the moment I have a need for it (which happens quite often in my foodie world), as opposed to waiting 8-10+ hours for it to dehydrate, is, for the most part, a justified expenditure!
2000: The year I decided to buy a dehydrator!
Fifteen years ago, my husband and I built a home and moved ten short miles from our previous home (in a planned development, complete with children riding bicycles on sidewalks and block parties), to our new home (with a few acres of ground around us, dairy cows for neighbors and a ski slope to look at). We moved from the suburbs to bona fide farm country!
Joe took up gardening as a hobby, and, he took it seriously. He took it too seriously. He planted two large vegetable/herb gardens, a row of grapevines, and, a few fruit trees: apple, "pie" cherry, peach, plum and pear. When one finds oneself facing an excess of "free" fruits and vegetables (produce one doesn't pay for), one must find ways not to waste it: I purchased a dehydrator!
My Nesco 1000 watt dehydrator came with 4 trays, but up to 30 trays can be stacked on top of each other, on it, at one time. If you have a lot of produce to dehydrdate at one time, be sure to order the optional extra trays (I have 30). Place the food on as many trays as needed, always in a single layer and slightly apart. This allows the air to freely circulate and insures the food dehydrates evenly.
The temperature used depends on the food you are drying. In the case of cherries, which I am demonstrating today, 1 1/2 pounds of washed and pitted sour cherries required 3 trays. The dehydrator, as per the instruction manual (for most fruit), gets set to 135 degrees. At they end of the day (about 8-10 hours later), the yield is about 1 1/2 cups of dried cherries.
Can't quite justify purchasing a dehydrator + additional trays?
The only equipment necessary is a baking pan with a rack inserted into it. This is a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan. In the case of small-sized fruit, 1/2"-grid-type racks work great, as the food, as it shrinks, can't fall down onto the pan.
1 1/2 pounds pitted, sour cherries
are spaced evenly apart on the rack in this photo. Preheat your oven as low as it will go, 150-200 degrees.
Note: It is ok to dehydrate two pans at one time, if they will fit on the center rack together. Placing two pans on two racks, can be done, but it requires swaping the pans on the racks every two hours.
At the end of the day (about 8-10 hours later), each pan will yield about 1 1/2 cups dried cherries!
Whether the cherries are dried in a dehydrator or in the oven, the standard test for doneness is: cherries will be 1/3-1/2 of their original size, leathery in appearance and slightly sticky.
Remove trays from dehydrator or pans from oven and allow to cool to room temperature, on trays or racks in pans, 1-2 hours. (Tip from Mel: I often just turn the dehydrator or oven off and let them cool to room temperature right in the oven or in the dehydrator for several hours or overnight.) Transfer and store cherries in an airtight container for several days (3-4), or, freeze them in zip lock bags to have on hand all year long!
Special Equipment List: food dehydrator w/additional add-on trays (optional), or: 17" x 12 1/2" baking pan(s); cooling rack(s), preferably grid type; parchment paper (optional)
Cook's Note: Over the course of the next few days, I'm going to show you a few recipes using dried sour cherries. In the meantime, my cookie recipe for ~ Oatmeal & Savory Dried Sour Cherry Sensations ~ can be found in Category 7!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)