Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Storm window cherries

A few years ago, I bought a couple of fruit trees and planted them around my yard.  These trees have generally been a lovely treat . . . especially for the squirrels and insects in our neighborhood.  I haven't gotten to appreciate much--if any--of the fruit myself, except in the theoretical and aesthetic sense.   Still, I appreciate the general idea of having fruit trees around, even with no actual edible fruit.

So imagine my surprise when I went around the corner of my house this weekend and saw this:

Look a little closer . . .  see this?
. . . and this?

I decided to grab a canning jar to put the cherries in, but then decided, what the heck? why not just bring out the colander? And good thing I did, because I pretty much filled the entire colander up. Wow, what a surprise harvest!

Using a paperclip*, I pitted about half of the cherries in a half an hour.  N-son joined in the fun and showed me that he didn't even need any tools at all; he did a squeezing/squirting kind of motion to eject the pits from the cherries.  He was way more efficient than I was, and with me and my paperclip and N-son with his squirt-eject method, we finished the rest in 10 more happy minutes.   A bit of taste-testing made the shared time even sweeter.
* With many thanks to Brigitte for this suggestion!  
I like the paperclip method even more than the eraser-less-pencil method!

About a year or so ago, I loaned out my dehydrator to a former student.  I do like dehydrating food, but she needed a dehydrator and I was ready to share mine.   Why ready to share?  Well, I tend to get twitchy about (a) using electricity to (b) run an appliance that makes a blowing sound to remind me that it's on while it (c) simultaneously heats my house in the summer, so I have had a sort of conflicted relationship with that appliance.  But this past weekend, I just got the craving to dry the cherries for future granola batches.  I wasn't in the mood for a batch of canning (plus, we still have a few jars of cherries from last summer in our basement).

So I decided to make my own solar dehydrator.  Here's the design of my dehydrator, made in layers.

  • Bottom layer:  a garden table, to keep everything off the ground.  
  • Next, something black and flat.  (Day 1, I used a black garbage bag; after that I used baking pans that had turned black from years of use).
  • Next, a frame of pieces of wood -- two-by-fours work well for the four sides.
  • Then an old window screen, no longer needed, laid upon the wooden frame. I scrubbed the screen very well.
  • Another frame of wood, on top of the first one.
  • Put the cherries inside the upper frame of wood, on top of the screen, and top off  the entire shebang with an old storm window.
I didn't nail or glue anything; I just laid it on the table.  This dehydrator was not even remotely air sealed, which I figured was okay because a dehydrator needs some air flow.  It's just a pile o' stuff. Voila!

The cherries started out looking like this, round and red.  After an hour or so, I decided to slice them in half for better drying.

And how did it work?  After two days* in the sun, I had dried cherries!  

* Overnight, I brought the cherries in and stored them in the oven, 
mostly to keep them away from cool temperatures and also from potential bugs.

Whoop!  These will go great on my granola.  They look a lot like raisins, don't they?

Some advantages of drying food this way:  well, of course, it costs nothing and doesn't heat up my house the way canning or electric dehydrators do.  I am grateful for a sunny spot in my yard that stays sunny pretty much all of the day; that is a crucial free (to me) ingredient that I know not everyone has.

When the cherries were done, I just stacked back up the wood,the screen, and the storm window and stuck everything back in the garage for other projects.   (My very clean and de-cluttered garage, better yet!!)  So the second advantage is that I don't need to store a piece of specialized equipment.

And lastly, compared to freezing or canning, dried cherries take up very little space.  Here you see the previously-full colander, together with three-and-a-half cups of dried cherries, stored in air-tight canning jars for long-term safekeeping.  These dried cherries are tiny compared to their former selves, but they really pack a punch!

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