The Season for Dried Fruit

February 25, 2009 at 9:05 am

Rob Gardner

More than an attic full of food, more than the willingness to schlep around, more than about anything, I say our ability to be a Local Family stems from the kids ability to never tire of apples.  Apples store so well.  Even if we did not have a good inventory in the Bungalow, we could find local apples at stores (including Whole Foods!) and at the winter Green City Market.  Until the first rhubarb and then strawberries appear, there will always be apples.  Yet, a day or so ago, my younger daughter, a young woman who could practically exist on fruit, said to me, “I’m sick of apples.”  Were we into the season of dried fruit.

Melissa Graham in a comment to yesterday’s post, mentioned dried cranberries.  It reminded me that I had meant to include dried fruit as a staple of our pantry.   See, dried fruit can provide a needed break from apples about this time of year*, but dried fruit is also a critical part of the pantry.  Dried fruits add contrast and texture to many a-dish. Raisin pies are classics of Midwestern cooking, and proof that dried fruits have their own profile.  We have much good local dried fruits to use.  The season for them is always now.

Raisin pie, you know we had an awfully sweet yet very eatable version of this dish at the so called world’s largest cafeteria back in December.  The thing about raisins though, despite their place in Midwestern cooking, and despite the plethora of grapes grown around here, are just not found locally, at least as far as I’ve seen (and boy would I’d be keen to find a local raisin source.)  Paul Virant at Vie makes his own raisins.  That’s at least one option.  Make raisin pie to celebrate our regional cuisine, but generally use the other dried fruits available.

We have two classes of dried fruit available to us in the Chicago area.  First, there’s what I’d call commercial dried fruit.  Second, there’s what I’d call artisanal dried fruit.   I use this terms more to define the producer and seller, not so much to distinguish in quality.  I pretty much love all local dried fruit I find.  When I think of commercial dried fruits, I think of two red items: cherries and cranberries.  Both provide jolts of sweet-tart intensity, and can be in fact too good.  I’m sure a lot of you are like me, quite able to pound away a pound of dried cherries in one sitting.  Commercial dried fruits can be found all over, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Costco.  Just read the labels to find the ones that are local.  My wife finds these red fruits add the perfect counterpoint to one of her bread puddings.  Beyond the red stuff, you may also find commercial, local, dried blueberries.

When I think of artisanal dried fruit, I think firstly of the items packaged by Seedlings Farm of Michigan.  They take their excess fruits, all kinds including strawberries and pears, and dry them.  If you think it is too easy to eat too many commercial cherries, try getting your hands on these.  My older daughter once killed our purchase without us knowing.  Thing is, you pay a bit more to be excessive with these, and she ate about $15 worth of dried fruit that day.  Think of these fruits as a condiment.  Beyond Seedlings, several other Michigan fruit farmers that you see at the farmer’s markets offer dried fruits.  Even when their supplies of local fruit are robust, stock up on this dried fruit. 

The Seedlings products can be found at some area stores including Green Grocer and Pastoral.  Seedlings also shows up weekly to the winter markets.  Where are you getting your dried fruit?

We’d love to hear about your season of dried fruit, including the types of local dried fruit you find and your dried fruit recipes.  All raisin pie recipes will be re-posted.

*We are not immune to buying in the winter, citrus, pineapples, bananas and other non-local food.

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