More snow and more mud. Sometimes it seems that winter in Vermont will just never let go. I take that back. It always seems this way. Which is why I need just about any distraction I can get this time of year until I can start spending more time outdoors.
Usually, I’d be well on my way to planning my garden and starting seedlings, but I just couldn’t get myself motivated this year. Luckily, I can get better-looking plants from local farmers and save myself the hassle. Instead, I’ve been reading, getting to some painting projects around my condo, and cleaning out everything from closets to freezers.
I bought a new fridge last fall, one with the freezer on the bottom. It makes seeing and accessing everything in the fridge much easier. But I still haven’t found a good way to organize the drawer-style setup of the freezer. And it’s become a bit of a black hole, especially, as I learned while sorting through it, for frozen fruit.
Most of the time we’re good about sticking to our shopping list, but it’s hard to pass up a good sale on frozen fruit. Or when I find something I think I won’t see again for a while, I have a tendency to stock up. So if you need cranberries before Thanksgiving, let me know.
I also discovered several bags of dark cherries. As I learned while cleaning out my grandparents basement last summer, where I found canned items dating back to the 1960s, there’s no sense in storing food for too long. Even in the freezer, nothing lasts forever. The quality starts to suffer, the nutrients dissipate and sometimes you can’t even tell what it was in the first place.
With fresh local fruits and other produce soon to come, it’s a good time for all of us to clean out our freezers. And why not your pantry shelves while you’re at it?
These cherry almond oat bars helped me clear out my frozen cherry stockpile and make a dent in my almond supply. You could swap out the cherries for blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, peaches or whatever you may have hiding in your freezer. But there’s no need to defrost before getting started. You may need to add more cornstarch to thicken the jam up, but otherwise, it should work. And if desired, switch the almonds for another kind of nut.
This makes a big batch of bars. Cut the recipe in half, if you’d like. Or gift them to that friend who can’t sop complaining about the weather. I think they’re best stored in the fridge and eaten within three days.
Cherry almond oat bars
Makes: about 24 bars
6 cups frozen cherries
2/3 cup orange juice
¼ cup maple syrup
1/2 cup sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/8 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups oats
1 ½ cups almonds
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 ½ sticks of butter
In a medium saucepan, combine the cherries, orange juice, maple syrup and sugar. Bring it all to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to help mix it all together. After it’s been simmering for about 5 minutes, use a potato masher or back of a large spoon to smash the cherries and help break down the fruit.
In a small bowl or jar, stir the cornstarch with just enough water to dissolve. Add this into the fruit mixture and continue to simmer until thickened. Then stir in the vanilla and 1/8 teaspoon of salt. Taste and add more salt or vanilla, if bland. Allow to cool either in the pot on the stove, or if you’re in a hurry, transfer it to a bowl and place in the fridge while you make the crust and topping. The jam will continue to thicken as it cools.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a half-sized (18”x13”) baking sheet with oil spray or a little extra butter, if you have it handy. You could use parchment or a silicone sheet instead, but you’ll still want to grease the edges of the pan.
In a large bowl, add half of the oats and half of the almonds. Throw the remaining oats into a food processor and pulse just a few times to chop up the oats. Add these to your bowl. Then do the same with the almonds, pulsing them just a little longer to roughly chop. Stir the flour, brown sugar, baking powder and cinnamon into the bowl as well.
Cut the butter into small cubes and add it to the bowl. Use your (clean) hands to work the butter into the dry mixture until it is all incorporated and you have just small clumps. Take 2/3 of this and press it into the bottom of the greased baking sheet. Try using the bottom of a spatula or that potato masher to really press the crust flat into the pan. Spread the now cooled jam over the crust in an even layer. Crumble over the remaining crust mixture so that the jam is mostly covered.
Place the baking sheet into the oven and bake for about 35 minutes or until golden and gooey. If you can contain yourself, allow the bars to cool at least 30 minutes, when they will firm up some more, before slicing.