What is it with me and dried fruit this summer?
I have been in California for a year now. I remember exactly what I was doing last year: waiting for Grub to make his appearance, getting Peach settled into a new home, and frequenting the local farmers’ market with my visiting parents to gorge on the cornucopia of fresh fruits and berries as I studied for the first of two medical boards exams. Specifically, we descended on the fruit stands with the sweetest, plumpest strawberries and endless varieties of stone fruit. The green pluots made their way into our kitchen every week, we dreaming of their appearance again this year, already tasting the sweet, crisp flesh on our tongues before their August arrival.
One activity my mother and I did last year was make loads of fruit leather. My mom noticed a fruit stand with a $15 box of “cosmetically challenged” fruit, probably 30 pounds of it. We couldn’t help ourselves. We bought it, me with visions of chopping and pureeing, various crisps and cobblers, maybe a pie. Ah! Endless possibilities!
The reality is that even with our voracious fruit appetites, it is difficult to consume that much fresh fruit in any permutation and without ample freezer space. And so my fruit leather making begins again. My mother can’t join me this year in my frenzy of fruit pureeing and drying — she’s cleaning up the paths on Isle Royale in Michigan with the Sierra Club right now — so I lugged another box of culls home with the help of Eat, food processor awaiting its marathon task.
After shooing away the ever-present fruit flies and cutting away the browned, mushy bruises, I marveled at the rainbow of colors of the fruit’s flesh: jewel-red plums, calyx-green pluots, sunshiney peaches, ivory white nectarines stained blood-red at the flesh clinging to the pits. Grub has eaten his share of fresh stone fruit this week, never tiring of his slow, methodical pinch grip, picking up each slippery piece. I am the opposite: violently ripping finished leather from its parchment, I stuff it into my mouth like a hungry dog. Fruit leather does it to me every time. Even as a child, a box of Fruit Roll-Ups in my greedy hands wouldn’t last more than ten minutes.
This recipe does take time to prepare but produces much better fruit leather you’ll find in the stores. No preservatives: just fruit and honey (or skip the honey if you are using very sweet fruit). I used parchment paper so I could cut it in strips to store rolls of the leather more easily and for better portion sizes (never mind that I can eat a whole sheet, or two, in one sitting). While it was easy to set up the pans and parchment, it bothered me that the parchment wrinkled up as the fruit dried. I’ve done this multiple times, not finding a way to rectify the situation — with this puree anyway.
What I did try, partly out of curiosity, partly laziness, was make a “shaggy” leather. As I tired of pureeing pounds and pounds of fruit, I roughly pureed a couple of batches, the fruit in chunky bits but still juicy enough to pour. I poured this out on to two pans, dried about the same length of time, and ended up with a shag carpet of fruit leather, with a little more texture than the smooth leather I had already turned out. And no paper wrinkles.
Some readers fret with there are not specific measurements and instructions for some recipes. Fruit leather doesn’t need it. Put away those cares: they are unheeded here! You will need to watch your dry time, slow and controlled set at the lowest temperature on your oven. This can vary from oven to oven, brand to brand. Additionally, make sure you spread your fruit puree very evenly, even at the edges, or you will have sections that will dry up faster and possibly burn or crack. Another nugget of wisdom: if you rotate your pans every couple of hours, your leather will dry more evenly, especially if using high-quality pans alongside the junky, thin old ones.
Since you need the oven on for hours to make this, you’ll likely be home during the process. Pull out your Tori Amos CD Little Earthquakes, flip to Leather, and sing shamelessly. I’m telling ya, Tori’s singing about fruit leather. Totally. I’m off to stuff my face like a hungry dog.
- Pounds of cut up stone fruit (or berries -- but there will be seedy crunches). You decide if you want to skin the fruit (I didn't).
- Honey (to taste, depending on your preferred sweetness level)
- Spices (optional -- try cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cayenne)
- Special equipment: multiple baking pans (number depends on your amount of fruit used), parchment paper
- Puree fruit, adding honey and spices (if using) while mixing. Taste to determine your desired sweetness level, and add more honey if needed.
- Line pans with parchment paper.
- Spread thin layer of fruit puree onto each pan, ensuring that each layer is uniform throughout. (Using an offset spatula can help with spreading. You can kind of see how thick my puree layer is compared to the spatula in the photo above.) If edges are thinner than the middle, your fruit leather will dry unevenly and may burn on the edges.
- Place into 170 degree F oven for 2 hours. Check tackiness: if lightly touched with your finger, does the puree still feel like puree? Does it stick to your finger? If yes, dry longer. Check in another 2 hours. (Allow for another 2 hours after this, depending on your oven heat and the thickness of your puree.) The fruit leather is done when if touched, it feels slightly sticky and almost dry (but not crispy), and does not come off onto your finger when touched. If you do let it go for longer, you will end up with crispy, dried puree. You can market these as stone fruit chips and store in an airtight container.
- Cut parchment into long strips (or fun shapes), roll up, and store in a cool, dry place or Ziploc bags.