Drying Sweet Cherries

 Pitted bing cherries going into the dehydrator.
I crowd as many as possible onto each tray.

I picked up 60 pounds of pitted bing cherries at Hentze Family Farm in Junction City on Friday and have been dehydrating them all weekend.  Yes, I am generally the "Buy Local" gal (hey, Junction City is only about seventy-five miles away) but Hentze's is the only place I know that will pit the cherries for you and their machine never misses a pit!  I pick cherries at Shady Lane Orchards for fresh eating, but it would take me a very long time to pit 60 pounds for drying using my Norpro hand-powered cherry pitter and it quite frequently leaves pits in.  (Works better for pie cherries, which I do pick locally and pit myself.)

I can fit 30 pounds of bing cherries at a time in my Excaliber dehydrator, using 8 of the 9 trays.  (The top tray is too close to the ceiling to fit such plump, juicy cherries.)  I dry them whole, so it takes about 36 hours at 135 degrees.  You could speed it up by cutting them in half, but be prepared for purple fingers for a few days.  After they are dried (larger cherries will not be as dry as smaller ones) you need to transfer them all to a large covered container and let them sit at room temperature for a few days.  This is called conditioning and during this time the moisture content evens out, so the smaller cherries that perhaps got a bit too dry absorb some of the excess moisture in the larger cherries that didn't get quite dry enough and they all end up just right.  Then I store them in plastic bags in the freezer in one-pound amounts.

After 30 to 36 hours in the dehydrator.

Dried cherries are a favorite snack around here and I love having them on hand for baking.  In fact, I just pulled a batch of cookies out of the oven that I made with dried bing cherries, white chocolate chips, and chopped walnuts in a cocoa cookie dough.  Yumm!!!

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