I had not even realized that there is a cherry season here in the Hudson Valley but, thanks to a fortuitous Facebook post by a friend, we spent a few hours picking the most gorgeous sweet cherries at Fix Brother's Fruit Farm in Hudson last weekend. It was a glorious morning - clear and sunny with a nice breeze that kept us from getting too hot. The cherries hung like jewels from the trees with a beautiful backdrop of bright blue skies.
Our small son basically ate his weight in cherries by using his mouth as his bucket - it's highly efficient and probably saved us a few dollars when we went to pay since they did not ask us to plunk him on the scale... By the end of the outing, he looked like he'd committed some sort of grisly murder (luckily, I had some wipes in the car). He had a ball! The only downside was that we did have to change quite a few more yucky diapers than usual over the next day or so as the fruit made its way through his digestive system.
Then we spent the rest of the day making things with those cherries -- namely, cherry pie, pickled cherries from the new Food in Jars cookbook and this here cherry fruit leather. (The other recipes will be coming soon.)
My husband and I had thumbed through a variety of cookbooks for inspiration before we headed out to the farm since we wanted to get a sense of how much we'd need to pick (and what kind) for various projects.
We were drawn to the fruit leather recipe in Sherri Brooks Vinton's excellent book, Put 'em Up! in part because it was so simple and in part because our son LOVES fruit leathers and we were intrigued by the idea of making our own.
We don't have a food dehydrator (yet) but this recipe just calls for you to bake the leather on a cookie sheet at very low heat in the oven for a few hours.
The resulting fruit leathers are beautiful and very delicious - sweet and intensely flavorful. I think I would use a little less sugar than the 1/2 cup Sherri's recipe called for next time, depending on the sweetness of the fruit I was using.
They're a definite hit with our son. We'll see how long the jar on our countertop lasts...
Cherry Fruit Leather
Adapted from Put 'em Up!
* 4 cups sweet dark cherries, stemmed and pitted (a cherry pitter will definitely come in handy)
* A large splash (roughly 1/5 cup) of water
* 1/4 -1/2 cup sugar (original recipe calls for 1/2 cup but these would have been plenty sweet with less)
1. Put the cherries and water in a medium-sized pot (taller sides are better since you'll be blending in the pot) and bring them to a boil. Simmer until the cherries begin to break down, about 10 minutes. Puree the fruit, using an immersion blender or by pouring it into a blender and then back into the pot again (an immersion blender is sooooo much easier for this type of thing - if you don't already have one, I highly recommend that you get one!)
2. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Line a jelly-roll pan or rimmed baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper or a Silpat and set aside (next time, I would use a Silpat as the paper did stick in a few spots when it came time to peel the leather off of it.)
3. Add the sugar and continue to simmer the cherry puree over low heat, stirring frequently, until it thickens to the consistency of baby food - this may take 10-15 minutes.
4. Spread the sweetened, thickened puree onto the baking sheet, tilting to create an even layer about 1/8 inch thick (note, it is challenging to get the mixture truly evenly spread - ours ended up slightly thicker in the middle so part of the leather ended up a tiny bit sticky). Bake in the oven until just tacky to the touch, about 2 hours (this took us significantly longer as our oven kept turning off - it doesn't seem to handle low temps well :()
5. Cool to room temperature. Slide the parchment paper or Silpat onto a cutting board and peel the leather off. Then cut the sheet of leather in half across the middle (the short way), roll each half up and slice the roll into 2-3"-wide pieces. Store, rolled up in an airtight container on the counter for up to a month.
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