Chukar cherries: Making dried cherries while the sun still shines
PROSSER, Wash. – The Northwest cherry harvest is nearing its end . That means one company in central Washington is hurrying to squirrel away the sweet fruit so customers can get this taste of summer all-year long.
Over the course of just a few sun-soaked weeks every summer, Chukar Cherries dries 250,000 pounds of fresh cherries.
“It’s almost like going into your mom’s kitchen and she’s just taken a cherry pie out of the oven. A little bit like that,” explains J.T. Montgomery, one of the owners of the candy company.
The dried fruit goes in to a lot of its products. The most popular: Chewy semi-dried cherries rolled in oval nuggets of chocolate. Don’t mistake Chukar Cherries for those syrupy chocolate-cherry candies that people hand out for Valentine’s Day. Think chocolate raisins, but a lot richer.
After the drying process, Eva Moreno scrapes the sticky treats off stainless trays.
“No snacking allowed," she says. "Even though they look delicious.”
Next, Montgomery leads us to a set of double doors.
“OK, we are about to enter the chocolate room,” he says.
The rooms is filled with a buzz or drone noise of machines working.
“The process that you’re watching here is called panning," Montgomery explains. "It’s an old-world chocolate process.”
Imagine a copper kettle turned on its side spinning around like a concrete mixer.
“Each new layer of chocolate adheres to the previous layer. It just builds up to … just like a pearl.”
You can order online, but Chukar Cherries’ tasting room is the real experience.
Anita Quinn is a high school teacher and regular Chukar Cherries customer.
A tasting room worker offers her a sample. “This is the cabernet," she says. "It’s a tart cherry with dark chocolate.”
Quinn pops the sample in her mouth.
“Ohhhhhh, well how could you beat dark chocolate and a cherry?" she asks. "You have that sweet taste and then it’s a little tart. It just goes together.”
For Quinn, Chukar Cherries capture the taste of Central Washington.
“I remember my mom could always hardly wait to get cherries from here, the fresh ones," she says. "But then when they started doing this -- it’s like you can have them all year.”
Which means summer can linger, even in those dark winter months here in the Northwest.
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See the drying and chocolate-coating process:
Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio