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Cherishing cherry memories with Quick Cherry Turnovers

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As soon as I see shiny dark red cherries in the grocery store, my mind floods with memories of summer days spent with my grandparents on their Indiana farm.

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Midway through the summer, my dad would pack up the trunk of the Chrysler and drive me and my mom and my brother from our home in St. Paul all the way to the Indiana farm - in a car with no air conditioning. Hot kids sharing a back seat can get cranky. I'm sure that annual drive was not a high point of parenthood for my mom and dad.

Once at the farm, though, it was three weeks of bliss. There were no toys for us to play with, but my brother and I always had a grand time making our own fun. I loved climbing into the cherry tree that grew near the large garden planted with strawberries and vegetables. Sometimes, as I nestled into a crook of a thick limb on the tree, I was lucky enough to pluck a few plump ripe cherries before the birds got them. I'd pop the smooth, hard glossy cherries into my mouth, enjoy the sweet juiciness, and spit the pit as far as I could from my perch in the tree.

I still love cherries, although I've stopped spitting the pits (except when no one is watching). I don't remember my grandmother making any special treats with the cherries from her tree. Maybe that's why I seldom make the same cherry recipe each year when they are bright and beautiful in the grocery stores. It gives me plenty of opportunities to experiment with new ways to enjoy fresh cherries.

Not long ago, my friend Chef Rosemary Rutland, who lives in Atlanta, told me about a dessert made with wonton wrappers that she likes to make with students in the classes she teaches. When she makes the sweet treat at home, guests are delighted with each warm, crispy bite. She folds slices of fresh plums into wonton wrappers and fries them. After coating them with powdered sugar, Chef Rosemary serves them with a generous scoop of ice cream.

I used Chef Rosemary's creative idea to make Quick Cherry Turnovers. The only tricky part of making these crispy packages of sweet juiciness is pitting the cherries. Not as tricky as it is messy, though, with cherry juice squirting out in all directions. A little gadget called a cherry pitter works well. You can find those at hardware stores, kitchenware stores and even some supermarkets carry them. But if you've got an empty beer bottle or a bottle with an opening that size, just place the stemmed cherry on the top of the bottle and poke the thick end of a chopstick right through the middle. The pit will fall into the bottle and squirting juice will be minimal.

Thin squares of wonton wrappers become delicate and crisp, while the sugared cherries hidden inside become warm and tender as they fry in a shallow pool of hot oil. You can assemble the turnovers just before your guests arrive. Store them in the refrigerator on a parchment-lined platter or baking sheet. At dessert time, pull them out and in seconds you'll be presenting a dessert your guests won't want to end.

I've used the gas burner from a turkey fryer set that we got years ago. That way, I can fry the turnovers outside on the patio at the end of a summer meal for dessert on the deck. A cast iron pan works well for frying these cherry turnovers whether you're doing it outdoors on a gas burner or inside on the stove.

Get the family involved in the preparation of Quick Cherry Turnovers. Who knows? They might become a seasonal tradition in your house. If not a tradition, there is no doubt you will be creating lifelong memories.

Quick Cherry Turnovers

1 cup pitted fresh cherries

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

16 square wonton wrappers

Vegetable oil, for frying

Powdered sugar, for serving

Cut each pitted cherry into four pieces. Set cherries aside.

In a small bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon and salt. Sprinkle sugar mixture over cherries and stir to coat the cherries.

Working with one wonton wrapper at a time, place on work surface floured side up. Place about 4 pieces of cherry just off center on the wrapper. Dip your finger into a small bowl of water and run it around the edges of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper to form a triangle, pressing the moist edges to seal completely. Place the prepared turnovers on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Heat about one inch of oil in a heavy pan over medium high heat. Fry filled turnovers in small batches, turning so they are golden on both sides. It won't take long, so watch closely. Transfer fried turnovers to paper towel-lined platter. Allow to cool slightly. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream or your favorite ice cream. Makes about 16 turnovers.

Recipe inspired by Chef Rosemary Rutland, www.chefrosemary.com.

Tips from the cook

--Turn this dessert into pure decadence by adding a drizzle of your favorite hot fudge sauce when serving.

--Chef Rosemary coats the warm turnovers with powdered sugar in a bowl or shakes them in a bag.

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