For nearly the whole time I have known him, Bryan has raved about a small peninsula near Green Bay (Wisconsin) called Door County. It basically contains a chain of quaint Midwestern vacation towns, and they all seem to mysteriously enjoy a practice called a "fish boil" in which you go to a restaurant where, out back, they throw fish, potatoes, and probably some other stuff into a giant cauldron of boiling water until it's, I guess, cooked. I'm perplexed to be honest.
But they also, as I found out when we spent a weekend there recently, have cherries. Orchard after orchard of trees, in fact, bending under the weight of a thousand fat, juicy cherries that are so ripe that when you go to pick them, the flesh falls off in your hands, leaving the stem and pit still attached to the tree. I genuinely have never seen anything like it. They warn you that these cherries are sour, but I think that's just a marketing ploy to stop you, when you're picking your own, from eating three times as many as you put in the bucket.
These cherries are more tart than anything, so present with flavor that not much else is needed in a bar (or, if I had the courage to attempt making my own crust, a pie, but I am still working on making good pie crust, so this time, we will stick with bars). These bars are so easy because the crust and crumble are made in a food processor, using oats rather than flour, since they are dry enough to soak up the excess moisture from the cherries, and also sturdy enough to hold the weight of them without baking twice (as you do for, say, lemon bars). Also, I guess I am revealing my not-so-secret addiction to fruit/oat/streusel desserts.
You'll notice in the recipe that I use unprocessed sugar - either raw or coconut is fine - and that's intentional. The more processed the sugar, the sweeter the taste, right? Well, the sweeter the taste, the more it drowns out the tartness of the cherries, and that's what we're all here for, I assume. Plus, after pitting 8 lbs of these, by hand, one at a time, you really want to taste the fruits of your labor.
The result is a hearty, yet somehow simultaneously delicate bar that contrasts subtle sweetness - from the crust and crumble topping - with the bold tartness of the fresh cherries. The bars are cooked just long enough for the cherries to soften but not lose their form, so you won't feel like you are eating something slathered in cherry jam, but something topped with real cherries. And as a bonus, for those of you who need to worry about this sort of thing, the cherry delivery vehicle, ahem crust and crumble, is made with oats and almond meal, so are gluten-free*.
(*As always, if you are sensitive to gluten, be sure to use a variety of oats that is certified gluten free.)
Best of all, like all of my healthier recipes, they contain no refined sugar (yeah, duh, we already covered this - sorry), very little sweetener, no refined flour, and a ton of fiber (oats) and fresh fruit (I'm sure you can figure this one out on your own). However, just in case that's not enough of a feel-good recipe, I will leave you with just a couple more pictures from our trip to Door County, because when it stops freezing and raining in the middle of July just for a few hours, it really is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.
Thank you for indulging me. Now, for the recipe!