Fruit Leathers

Another way to dry fruit, as well as certain vegetables, is to leather them. Leathers are lightweight, high in nutrition, and easy to store and pack for hikes and camping. They are a good way to make use of overripe fruits, a good healthful "candy" for the kids, and a good liner for a cobbler. Apricots and peaches make the nicest leathers, but you can make good ones from pears, plums, rhubarb, unseeded berries, and many other foods or combinations of foods. Overripe Fruit Leather: All the rule books advise starting with only the best produce when preserving, but fruit leather is a blessed exception to that. If fruit is too ripe or bruised but not yet rotten, you can still make it into wonderful leather. In fact, slightly overripe fruit actually makes a sweeter, better-tasting leather! You just wash it, cut out the worst, mash, and dry. Bananas, even if almost brown, make fine fruit leather.

Steps to "Leather" Making

1. For any fruit, basically you just rinse it off and grind or force it through a sieve, mash with a potato masher, put through a food mill, or blend. Remove the peels, especially with pears, or you'll get a disagreeably grainy leather. Take pits and seeds out at whatever stage is appropriate. Too many seeds can really spoil a leather. You can store the mashed fruit in the freezer until you get around to making leather, and it will be all right. Even if it has started a wine-type fermentation, it will still make good fruit leather!

2. To make vegetables (squash, sweet potato, pumpkin, etc.) into leather, you have to precook and then sweeten and/or spice them to taste. You may like the final results of your fruit leathering better if you add 1 or 2 T. of sweetener per batch, and 1 t. lemon juice to light-colored fruits. You can vary sweetening and spices as you please, but you don't need to sweeten as much as you might think because as the leather dries and gets more concentrated, it gets sweeter and a chemical change occurs that causes the creation of more sugar.

3. The fruit or vegetables need to have the consistency of a smooth puree that is thin enough to pour. Add more fruit juice (any fruit juice will be great) or water if thinning is needed. (Apple and pumpkin tend to need thinning.) But too much water makes a puree that's too thin; thin puree tend to make a leather that sticks to the drying surface. (Grape and berry purees tend to be too thin.) If the puree is too thin, thicken by combining with a thicker sort of fruit puree; by slowly cooking it down over low heat to evaporate some of that water before you start drying; or by adding a thickener. There are lots of possible thickeners out there: guar gum (It. guar gum per 1 c. juice; let rest 10 minutes before you proceed); psyllium seed husks (IT. per 1 c. juice; let soak 5 minutes before proceeding); slippery elm (2 T. per 1 c. juice; let soak 5 minutes); wheat or oat bran; or chia or flax seeds.

4. If you're making leather from light fruits (apple, apricot, peach, or pear), heat puree to almost boiling (about 180°F) before drying. That will retard the browning.

5. Line a drying rack or cookie tray with food-safe plastic. Don't dry leather on wax paper or foil. The leather will hopelessly stick to them. Low-pectin fruits naturally stick more than high-pectin fruits. Combine with apple if you want to raise the pectin amount. If you're expecting a sticking problem, lightly coat the drying surface with a nonstick vegetable spray or vegetable oil. If your plastic is flimsy stuff and likely to blow into the leather, tape or clothespin the loose edges to each side of the pan. A 12 x 17-inch cookie sheet will be just right for about 2 cups of puree. For larger quantities, one system is to cover the top of an outdoor table with plastic wrap fastened at the sides and ends with tape. Pour your puree onto that. To ward off bugs, you can make a cheesecloth tent over it.

6. Pour your puree in and get it spread an equal depth by carefully tilting the tray one way and then another. The thinner your layer is, the quicker and easier it will dry. I recommend Va to inch. Get it too thick and you'll have trouble with spoiling, or you'll just plain get tired of having it around before it finally dries. If you get it thicker in the center than at the edges, you'll end up with leather that's brittle around the edges while still sticky in the middle.

7. You can dry by sun, oven, or dehydrator. Even home economists say that sun drying makes the best fruit leathers! They taste better and keep longer. When oven drying, try not to get the heat above 130°F and definitely not over HOT! Oven drying with insufficient air circulation or excessively high heat tends to make a brittle leather. High heat also runs the risk of scorching the fruit or even melting the plastic! It takes longer to oven-dry fruit leather than plain fruit, but your leather could be done within 6 hours. In a dehydrator, dry at 120°E Rotate pan or shelves often. When top side is dry, pull fruit off its backing. Dry with the down side up for about an equal time, and then you're done. Drying time in the sunshine depends on how hot and how humid it is. As few as 8 hours is possible.

8. Fruit leathers that are still slightly sticky to the touch but peel readily from the plastic are dried enough if they'll be eaten within a month or so, or frozen. They're nicer for finger food, but will store only up to 3 months or so at room temperature; if dried until no longer sticky, they'll store indefinitely (a year or more). Leather that is completely dried is mold-proof but tends to crack, crumble, and not roll. Pear, pineapple, and rhubarb leathers just naturally get more brittle during drying and storage than other kinds.

9. When your fruit leather is dry, cut it in strips about VA x 2 inches, or into squares. If you made strips, roll each one up, tightly layered between waxed paper or plastic wrap. Wrap with plastic or paper on the outside. Or store in flat sheets with something between them. Enclose in a tightly covered moisture- and bug-proof container. Or you can just bag them up in plastic and store in the freezer. If the leather is not adequately protected from light, air, warmth, and moisture during storage, it will tend to darken and deteriorate.

10. To serve, you can cook up the leather like dried fruit, but children enjoy snacking on hand-held chunks so much that's generally the way mine goes. Children love them as much as candy. Other options are to dissolve the leather in water and use as a pie filling, serve as a dessert topping over a pudding or ice cream, or stir in yogurt to flavor it.

APPLESAUCE LEATHER COMBOS Mix applesauce with berries, or any strong-flavored or scarce fruit to stretch it

Then use this mixture to make the leather, following the leather-making instructions above.

<&> CRISP FRUIT WAFERS Add 'A c. wheat bran per I c. thin fruit puree. Mix well, and proceed immediately as if to make a fruit leather. What you'll get is a delicious snack wafer. You can use oat bran the same way (especially good with tropical fruit juices), only it needs to soak for several hours before drying.

W> FRUIT LEATHER "CANDY" Sprinkle a breadboard with powdered sugar and work the leather strips on it patting and rolling until about As inch thick and powdered.

LEATHER-JUICE COMBO The essence of this method is that you steam or precook your pitted fruit then pour the panful into a sieve. What stays in the sieve gets made into fruit leather by the above recipes. What runs through (without a struggle) gets made into juice. The more juice you get the quicker what's left will dry. This is really a great way to make your fruit juice without struggle and without waste!

<i> FRUIT PASTE CANDY The pulp of two or more kinds of fruit can be combined for this. You can start from scratch with fresh, or use canned fruit Just put the pulp through a fine strainer. Then measure it For each pint of pulp, add I A3 c. sugar. Cook, stirring constantly, until thick and clear. Then turn out on an oiled platter. Let dry until a good tough film is formed on the top. Then turn it out onto a plastic screen to finish drying. Dry until it loses its stickiness. The sooner you can get it dried, the better. I recommend open air and sunshine for the job.

SUNSHINE PRESERVES This is actually a partially dried leather. This is the way to proceed if you want to keep the shape of the individual fruit sections in the preserves rather than work with a pulp. Dry fruit only until it has a "jam" consistency; then stop. Try this with apricot halves, nectarine or peach slices, or whole berries. The fruits keep their shape and color well. Use 3 c. sugar and 2 T. lemon juice to 4 c. fruit Combine fruit lemon juice, and sugar in a pan. Stir gently to blend the ingredients. Now cover and let set at room temperature I hour. This is to extract some juice to cook it in. Now put it on the heat and stir until it boils. Then let it boil hard 4 minutes without stirring. Now cool, uncovered. Pour your preserves out into glass or plastic pans or trays, Aj-3A4 inch deep. Set out in direct sunlight If bugs or dust are a problem, cover with a pane of glass or clear plastic, leaving a I-inch opening along the side. Once every hour stir a little bit They are done when the fruit is plump (turn as needed) and the juice is about as thick as corn syrup. Your preserves will get thicker when cold.

ci> UNCOOKED SUGAR-DRIED FRUITS To make this half-dried crock preserve, pit peel, and cut up peaches, apples, sliced pineapple, or whatever. Dry partly. Then pack in a crock with sugar spread thickly between each layer. Another way is to halve peaches, remove the pits, sprinkle the cavities with granulated sugar, and dry in an oven. Currants and cherries can be boiled with Ai lb. sugar per I lb. fruit for 15 minutes and then spread out to dry.

Continue reading here: Storing Dried Food

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