The fruit seasons are beginning or rapidly approaching. And while it’s an absolutely amazing time of year, I’ve sometimes felt a sense of panic. There’s not enough time! I have two huge buckets of cherries! What am I going to do?
A lot of things can be done with fresh fruit, but if you want to preserve the fruits of your labors—sorry, couldn’t help myself—for a longer period of time, there are other alternatives. I’m going to share some below that I learned while stationed in Moldova during my service in the Peace Corps.
Life is a bowl of cherries
Last summer I pitted and froze fresh cherries and apricots and was able to pull them out during the dark, cold winter for a much-welcome reprieve. Some people choose to can the fruit, either as jams and jellies or simply in the juice or syrup.
Drying fruit can also be done at home, and you can use the dried fruit in breads, granola or on cereal. There are some drying techniques that are way old school such as string drying. It’s not just garlic chains and red hot peppers that can be done this way; fruits and berries make good candidates as well.
Trying to eat predominately seasonal foods doesn’t mean excluding items that aren’t seasonal from your diet unless they’re picked fresh from the field. No way. That’s not the historic precedent at all.
Local field, local pantry
Instead if you think about eating locally along with food preservation and storage you simply need to rely on some ingenuity to make sure that foods can be available throughout the year. But this also means doing the research, finding an experienced friend, or working with trial and error to learn how to can and otherwise preserve food. I’d love for you to share your favorite food preservation techniques below.
But rather than telling you everything you need to know about drying fruit (I thought I’d give you some homework, after all,) instead, here are a couple options for using your fresh fruit while you can.
One common drink in most households in Moldova is compote. No, it’s not exactly the fruit dessert by the same name, but it is similar. Moldovan Compote is a cool fruit drink, made by boiling fresh fruit in water and seasoning with sugar. My host mother made raspberry compote, cherry compote, apple compote…there were many, many varieties, and all of them were delicious.
Many Moldovans choose to can their compote in jars, to be able to enjoy it during the winter.
2 gallons of water
2 cups of fresh pitted cherries (figure 1 gallon, about 1 cup)
1 cup of sugar (this is just a baseline. You should taste it to see if you like this.)
Put the water and the cherries into a large pot. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 2 hours. (You may need to add more water.)
Mix the sugar in, adjusting to taste. Pour the compote into a container and refrigerate. Serve with the fruit still in the compote. Drink, dessert, dessert, drink—what’s the dif?
Necessity is the mother of invention
Towards the end of my time in Moldova, I started experimenting with fruit tarts and toppings. I had a lot of fresh fruit available and if it didn’t get eaten, it was going to spoil. This particular concoction was used to top a custard tart, but it can be adjusted to any purpose. I’ve always been curious to try it as a glaze for ham or venison (after reducing the sugar, anyway.)
Cherry Red Wine Sauce
2 cups of fresh pitted cherries
½ cup of red wine
1 cup of brown sugar
½ teaspoon of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
¼ teaspoon of ground ginger (you could also try fresh minced ginger)
1 ½ teaspoons of vanilla extract
In a saucepan over low heat, combine the cherries (with the juice) with the red wine and vanilla. Stir the sugar in gradually; then add the spices. Heat until the sugar is melted- it should take on a syrupy consistence. If it is too watery, try adding a little bit of flour to thicken it without adding extra sugar. Set aside and use as a topping on any number of items: pound cakes, pancakes, ice cream…the only restriction is your creativity.
Be fruitful and multiply!
–Alex Klein for Transition Voice