Sunday, 8 June 2008

Who gives a fig about dried cherries?

Blogging makes the world seem like one global community until it comes to sourcing ingredients that are common elsewhere than my own little corner of the world. Most foods I can substitute but as a lover of cherries, I wish we could readily buy the dried version.

I have grown up with glace cherries as part of most dried fruit mixes that are used in fruit cakes and puddings. Vividly red and senselessly sweet they don’t seem to have much in common with the dark complex flavours of fresh cherries. It is like comparing the sweetness and light of Pride and Prejudice with the gloom and intensity of Persuasion (no prizes for guessing what was on the telly tonight). While Lizzie Bennett is a fine heroine, I can’t help but feel that she is merely wishful thinking. Anne Elliot, on the other hand, is so much more authentic if we are trying to find Jane Austen preserved in her literature.

Similarly, glace cherries have a particular charm but a recent opportunity to taste dried cherries made me wonder why we would do this to fresh cherries. Why must they be processed beyond recognition? Why couldn’t they retain some of their intense flavour? What a waste of lovely cherries! According to Wikipedia, the practice of making glace, candied or crystallized fruit goes back to the 14th Century and involves boiling fresh fruit in a sugary syrup to preserve it. Sure drying it will do this just as well these days.

And why am I so concerned? Because I decided I would use dried cherries for two different recipes this week. I wanted to use them instead of glace cherries in a solstice cake for AOF’s event (which will take some time as all good fruit cakes do) and in Ricki’s Fig and Cherry Bars. But when I finally got to the one place in Melbourne that I know sells them (David Jones) there was one 80g packet left on the shelf! Plus, they are imported from the USA and ridiculously expensive.

I wanted to make Fig and Cherry Bars but instead I bought some dried mixed berries which was the next best thing. I would love to make these bars with cherries and envy Ricki a little for being easily able to buy them. However I was able to add dried apricots which are readily available and cost about a tenth of the price. I am sure now that you will understand me renaming these bars. Although I used berries and apricots for this batch, it would be easier to use just apricots next time with no sacrifice in taste.

I hope there will be a next time. These bars are easy to make. I made them after dinner and was able to nibble on one by the time I sat down to watch Spicks and Specks (a favourite music quiz show) on the telly. I have found them an excellent alternative to the choc chip cookies I like to make. These bars are delicious, nutritious and satisfying. I am much less likely to feel the need for just one more as I sometimes do with the cookies. Yet another great recipe from Ricki!

Fig and Almond Bars
(Adapted from Diet, Dessert and Dogs)

1¼ cups (200g) roughly chopped dried figs, stems removed
2 cups (200g) ground almonds
¼ cup (30g) finely ground flax seeds
zest of 1 orange
2 Tbsp (30ml) agave syrup (or orange juice?)
2 Tbsp (30ml) tahini
1 cup (130g) dried cherries, berries or dried apricots (I used a mixture)

Place figs in the food processor to finely chop. Add remaining dried fruit. If your food processor is like mine it will end up a ball of fruit. Add remaining ingredients and process further. It will look a bit like sticky crumbly dough and should hold together when pressed between your fingers.

Use the back of a spoon or your hands to press into a lightly greased a 28 x 18 cm (or 20cm x 20 cm) slice tin. (If you use your hands they will smell heavenly and I find it much easier than the back of a spoon.) Place in fridge til firm (about an hour) and then cut into bars. Ricki suggested 12 bars but I cut it smaller. Keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

On the Stereo:
Ostpolitik: Spartak


  1. I saw dried cherries for sale at the Essential Ingredient in Prahran. I considered buying a bag, but like you said they are ridiculously expensive!

  2. Johanna ~ This looks so fabulous. I also adore cherries and find it hilarious that I had such a misconception about the availability of them in Australia. Since Tasmania has some reknowned cherry orchards, I thought that you'd be flooded with them. I also thought that they'd be made abundantly available here, too. But here we are, both of us buying dried cherries from the US. At least the figs are easy to come by!

  3. I agree with you absolutely about the glace cherries! They're wonderful in their place, but are basically made of syrupy plastic (not that that stops me from sneaking one out of the pot every so often!). I've also had my eye on this recipe and had hesitated for the same reason - but now I will go ahead with another combination of fruits safe in the knowledge that it still works out fine!

  4. thanks Agnes - don't get to the essential ingredient very often but will check these out when I am next there for stocking up

    thanks Shaun - it does seem ridiculous we have so many fresh cherries in summer and they get made into glace but not into plain old dried cherries

    thanks Lysy - it is worth trying this recipe with other fruits (even if mine didn't look as fab as Ricki's) - I am loving them. Plastic is the right word for glace cherries - I probably like them best in a good retro dish

  5. I planned to make these bars as soon as I saw them on Ricki's blog. I love recipes like this, because you can use any combination of berries or fruit desired.

  6. At the risk of annoying you by mentioning an ingredient you might not be able to get hold of - I love those dried sour cherries! Have you tried them? Also, I totally agree with you about the glace cherries - what the hell is that all about?!

  7. Yes these seem a show stopper to me, they just look wonderfully chewy and lovely. Great in a lunch box or on a hike too. Cherry or apricot they'd be lovely.

  8. thanks Lisa - I agree it is good to use any fruit but I love dried apricot so much that I am in danger of getting boring so I like a bit of a challenge to use other dried fruits

    thanks Helen - I'll just go and have a quiet sob in the corner about sour dried cherries that never come our way - but seriously I would like to try them if I ever did see them!

    thanks Tanna - they are impressive - they would be great on hikes and picnics as they do see a great little store of energy (I didn't even say about all the iron which is the nutrient I need to keep up)

  9. These look fabulous--so glad you liked them! I'm appalled though that cherries are so expensive (I'd have thought cherries would grow well everywhere in Australia?). I like your use of the orange peel instead of lemon, which I think would go much better with apricots. I think I must try this version next time! :)

  10. Ooo yum I saw these on Ricki's page a few days ago and can't wait to try them out! I can get dried cherries here but the ones I tried tasted really weird and I've yet to try others. Apricots sound like a fine substitution and I always have plenty of those at home!

  11. Good one Johanna. I've been sitting on these bars since Ricki posted them. Want to make them, but just need to get the ingredients together and find a cherry alternative. So it's great to read the adaptations you've made.

  12. thanks Ricki - it is appalling that dried cherries are so expensive because the fresh ones are reasonably priced in summer - maybe we love them so much we just eat all the fresh ones? I think I prefer the orange peel in the recipe as I am not so keen on lemon

    thanks Ashley - these are worth a try and the apricots taste delicious in them

    Thanks Kathryn - I think you would love these because they remind me a little of the tahini fruit and nut bars, but are gluten free! (and I just bought ground almonds for convenience)

  13. I'm vegan I found your site through a vegan food blog. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. I made these bars today and they're awesome. I used about 250 g dried apricots, and 100 g raisins. I didn't have any almonds available so I replaced it with about 150 g ground hazelnuts & 50 g whole walnuts.

    I used orange juice (with pulp) instead of agave nectar and was worried that the bars wouldn't be sweet, but they were thanks to sweet raisins. (I imagine that maple syrup would work too, if you want more sweetness or if agave nectar is hard to find)

    I did a wild thing and replaced tahini with peanut butter! Yum! As you can see, I did some changes but had great results. Next time I'll try tahini and find some other dried fruit. Cherries would be perfect! :)

  14. thanks Vana - this is a very flexible recipe - am glad to hear orange juice works as I was curious about this - am sure any nut butters would work in this too so interesting to hear about your peanut butter experiments

  15. I know this is more than a year later, but I have been hunting for dried cherries for about that time, and only recently did I find them at Essential Ingredient here in Canberra and they were $10 for 80g. I refused to pay that. And, as always, the ethnic food stores did not let me down. Today, I bought a 200g bag of dried morello cherries for $6 at the Fyshwick fresh food markets. Win!! Secret is to go to a Middle Eastern grocer I think!

  16. Hi Johanna!
    I was just doing a bit of research on glacé fruits and lo and behold but where should google place me but in your little corner of the world. (your blog is in my google search engine:)

    I think I know the source of your expensive selections of fruit. It seems, there is a huge company in Plant City, Florida that dominates the market on dried and sugared fruits. Paradise, I think it's called.

    Anyway, I also came across a site in, I think Australia, where some one makes their own. I'll leave you the link just in case I've piqued your curiosity:)

    Hope all is well with you and yours. Enjoyed my visit as always, "see" you in January; Louise:)


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