Imagine my utter delight when I realized that one of my long-time obsessions — tart dried cherries — could be created in my very own home, with free cherries (free if I consider my own time and labor to be such, which I guess it is; and if it’s not, I should start demanding a paycheck).
But then imagine my dismay when, after laboriously picking, pitting, sweetening, and drying a quart of fresh sour cherries, I ended up with a measly cup and a half of those tart and sweet morsels of pure love.
Let’s just say I’ll never again complain about the cost of an 8-oz bag of dried montmorency cherries from Trader Joe’s.
While I was a little disappointed in the yield, I do not count it a waste of time. For one, doing something and then chalking it as a new experience is never a waste of time in my book — that’s the only way to think about kitchen experimentation and not go mad from successive failures. For another thing, I got a lot more than just dried cherries in the end — I had precious pure sour cherry juice, sugar-and-cherry-infused cooking water, and cherry pits. Each of those by-products of the cherry-drying process has further use in the kitchen.
I was going for the same flavor as my beloved Trader Joe’s cherries, and got close. My cherries ended up darker, with a slight caramelized flavor — this was from my use of dehydrated cane juice (Sucanat or Rapadura) instead of white sugar. Also, my cherries were mostly halved when I pitted them — they were one of the lasts harvests from the tree, and by that point many cherries had been attacked by tiny worms. So I took to splitting each cherry apart, and getting a good look around the inside for any unwanted critters before proceeding. This makes for a dryer texture, since the halved cherries have less flesh in each bite.
If you have access to free cherries, and a food dehydrator, this is worth doing. But I wouldn’t buy them just for drying — it’s not cost-effective, certainly when you count the time investment. There are many easier things to do with fresh sour cherries (don’t worry, we’ll cover that later).
Tart Dried Cherries
- 4 cups fresh sour cherries, washed and pitted (see this post for a great, inexpensive cherry stoner)
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups sugar* (white or natural cane sugar)
In a small saucepan, bring water, cherries, and sugar to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently for about 20 minutes.
Drain cherries (reserve the cooking liquid*). Spread on trays in food dehydrator set to about 125º. Depending on size, and whether the cherries are whole or halved, drying time can vary. Begin checking after 6 hours — halved cherries took 6-8 hours in my dehydrator.
* Fear not: the sugar doesn’t all end up in the cherries — most of it is left in the cooking water. Which is why, when you reserve the water, you can boil it down for another 20 minutes or so, until it reduces by half. You end up with a delicious cherry syrup — a decadent treat that can be used for everything from topping pancakes to sweetening plain yogurt for desert. Place the syrup in a glass jar in your refrigerator, and it will keep for several weeks.