A couple of years ago I developed an easy-to-make cherry pecan fudge using maraschino cherries. It was a great holiday recipe for either Christmas or Valentines’ Day. The only problem was that the cherries would ooze a bit cherry liquid into the fudge, making the fudge a bit gooey at room temperature. Draining the cherries on a paper towels before adding them to the fudge helped somewhat.
I still loved the flavor combination, and I decided to try using dried tart cherries to banish the leaking-liquid issues.
You might not realize it, but Utah is a distant second to Michigan for tart cherry production. Davis County used to have many more orchards, but a lot of the property has been turned into subdivisions. The Rock Loft in Fruit Heights was once a cherry processing plant. During my teens, I had a summer job picking cherries in Utah County. My mom was taking classes at BYU, and she would drop us off early in the morning at the orchard. We would pick as much as we could during the cool morning hours. If you were with your friends, it could be kind of fun. If you were on your own, it could be tedious. But I loved it when our boxes were weighed, and we got paid by the pound. My mom would pick us up in the afternoon and we were tired enough that we usually slept on the drive back to Rush Valley.
Tart cherries are different from the sweet cherries that we eat fresh — they’re too sour to eat on their own. It used to be that the majority of tart cherries were made into pie filling. According to Kathy Stephenson’s Salt Lake Tribune article, the Payson Fruit Growers are now drying most of their tart cherries. They end up in nutrition bars, energy bars, granola and other nutrition-minded products. You can order their dried cherries, but I was able to find the Mariani brand at my local Smith’s grocery store. They are a lot like dried cranberries, but I love the cherry flavor a lot more.
In some ways, the dried cherries seem a bit like raisins in the fudge. But, I enjoy the texture and flavor they add. And the gooey is gone, since there’s no liquid oozing from the cherries.
A few weeks after experimenting with this idea, there was a mention of “sun-dried cherry fudge,” in a culinary mystery book that I was reading. (“The Whole Enchilada” by Diane Mott Davidson). So although I didn’t think of it first, I figured I’m in good company.
Try it, and let me know what you think!
Dried Cherry and Pecan Fudge
14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
12-ounce bag chocolate chips, or 12 ounces milk chocolate
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup dried sweetened cherries
1/2 cup pecan pieces
Line an 8-inch square pan with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.
Combine sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, butter and vanilla in a microwave-proof 4-cup bowl. Microwave on medium heat for 5 minutes. Using an electric mixer, beat the chocolate mixture for about 3 minutes. Fold in the cherries and pecan pieces.
Pour into the prepared pan. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until firm. Cut the fudge into pieces. Makes 16 2-by 2-inch squares, or 32 1-inch squ