Remember how sad I was when I tried to dehydrate some Ranier cherries earlier this summer? It turns out it’s all in the variety. Cherries, it seems, can be divided into categories besides sweet and sour. You’ve also got your juicy cherries (think big, dark varieties) and your fleshy cherries (think Bings and Raniers: almost more like apricots). Although it takes longer to dehydrate them, the juicy ones make better dried fruit. Trust me on this. The ones pictured above dehydrated for nearly 24 hours, yielding up something that looked like a cherry raisin. They still have enough water content in them that I wouldn’t want to leave them on the shelves for months at a time, so instead I packed them into five half-pint jars and stuck them in the freezer.
Now, you may ask, what do I do with these berries? For starters, you can just eat them. They also make really lovely winter fruit compotes when combined with dried apricots. But personally, I love them in meat stews.
Beef Stew with Dried Fruit
2 lbs beef stew meat
1 c red wine
salt and pepper
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T olive oil
1 c combined dried fruit (cherries, apples, apricots, and/or prunes)
About 2 c. of assorted stew vegetables, chopped (carrots, turnips, parsnips, etc.)
1 T cornstarch (optional)
1) At least an hour or up to 12 hours before cooking, season the meat with salt and pepper and marinate in the wine. Nestle the thyme sprigs in the meat.
2) Saute the onion in the oil in your pressure cooker (using it as a pot) for a few minutes, until translucent. Add the meat and the juices (including the wine and the thyme). Add another cup of water. Screw on and lock the lid. Cook at 15 pounds of pressure for 8 minutes, then release the pressure quickly. (For refreshers on pressure cooking, see this post.)
3) CAREFULLY open the lid and add the dried fruit and chopped vegetables. Put the lid back on. Bring back up to pressure and cook 2 minutes more, then release the pressure quickly.
4) CAREFULLY open the lid. Now you’re going to use the pressure cooker like a big pot again. Bring the mixture back up to a boil and cook until the liquid is reduced to the consistency that you like. If you prefer, mix up a little bit of cornstarch in a couple of tablespoons of cold water and add that to the pot.
I like to eat this over couscous, but it would work equally well with polenta or rice if you’re gluten free. It’s also a terrific way to eat venison. Just cook it a little longer (more like 15 minutes in the first round) to make sure that it gets tender.