Friday, July 22, 2011

Summer Fruit, 1-2-3

Summer is finally in full swing and I can't get enough fruit. And when I see a good price (.75/lb for stone fruit at the Civic Center Farmers Market this week!) I tend to to go a bit overboard. After fresh fruit and yogurt every morning, fruit as a snack, fruit in salads, baking cobblers, tarts etc., I find myself wondering what I else I can do with it all.

Ta-da, the American Harvest Snackmaster
Enter the fruit dehydrator, my latest kitchen addition which I scored for $20 on Craigslist. It even came with extra trays and fruit leather inserts, so I knew I had to break it in by making some fruit roll-ups.

The beauty of the dehydrator in general, and making fruit leather specifically, is you can use that slightly overripe fruit no problem. In fact the riper the fruit the sweeter the leather, plus you don't need to throw anything out because its gone a bit soft.

You can also totally experiment and use any fruit combination that strikes your fancy - blending together whatever you have on hand!

Making fruit leather really is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

#1 - Choose your fruit combinations, working with the following proportions: 3 cups fresh fruit, juice of half a lime or ~1 Tb lemon juice, ~1-2 Tb honey (or agave nectar) as needed.

You don't need much!
Here are some of the ones I made, varying the amount of honey to taste:
  • Cherries, plums, lemon juice, honey
  • Strawberry, mint leaves, balsamic vinegar
  • Papaya, strawberry, lime juice, agave nectar, lime zest
  • Peaches, strawberries, lime juice honey
  • Mango, strawberry, lime juice, mint, honey
  • Apricot, cherries, lime juice, honey, lime zest 
After washing and cutting away any heavily bruised parts, cut up fruit, add all ingredients to a blender and puree until smooth.

#2 - Spray fruit leather tray lightly with vegetable oil spray (Pam or canola work well) to prevent sticking. Pour mixture evenly into fruit leather trays and use a spatula or spoon to smooth out. Place tray in your dehydrator and dry at 130°-140° F until fruit feels leathery and there are no super sticky spots on the top or bottom.

Pour evenly into tray and smooth with a spatula or spoon
The length of time will vary depending on moisture, thickness, and the type of fruit you use as both the amount of pectin and the amount of sugar come into play. The type of dehydrator you have is of course a factor as well.*

The amount of pectin determines how well it will bond as a solid sheet when it dries.

Fruits naturally high in pectin include apples, apricots, blackberries, blueberries, guavas, peaches, pineapple, plums and more. Fruits naturally low in pectin include cherries, citrus fruits, melons, strawberries, raspberries and almost all vegetables. If you have a low pectin combo, you can always add a little applesauce to the mix to make sure it forms into a sheet well.

Fruit leather ready to be removed
A lot of sugar or sweetener in the puree will lengthen the drying time and potentially cause your leather to stick to the tray surface. This can be a real pain to remove, and of course mean you might end up with sheets which tear and break, which is no big deal in terms of the eating, but not so pretty for presentation.

Taste your puree once blended and add sweetener accordingly, but remember that it will become sweeter once dried.

The above combinations took between 10-12 hours, though I now realize I could have done them in considerably less time, but as a first-timer I was overzealous about the instructions of making sure there were no sticky spots (thus the rephrasing in my instructions above to no "super sticky" spots) and I did pour them quite thick. Still, though some of it first felt more like fruit brittle when it cooled down, it still tasted great and did became softer as it absorbed moisture from the air.

Cut sheets to desired size
#3 - Remove sheets from the dehydrator while leather is still warm and package into whatever size rolls you want with plastic wrap. Store in an airtight container.

I cut my sheets into thirds so that I could provide a variety of flavors per item for the food swap, plus each piece was equal to an entire cup of fresh fruit which seemed like plenty (though easy to forget when you're chomping down on this tasty treat)!

Fruit leather is a real joy not just because it's so simple and easy to adjust to whatever you have on hand, it also lends itself very well to experimentation. You can add yogurt into the mix and even use all kinds of garnishes such as coconut, sesame or poppy seeds, chopped nuts and dried fruit or granola (though refrigeration is recommended if you do this and aren't going to eat rolls right away).

My fruit leather trios at the swap
The next thing I want to try making is coconut wrappers...check out the crazy cool decorations you can create using vegetable juice and puree!

If you have any tried-and-true favorites or other innovations making fruit leather or using a dehydrator, please share as comments below or shoot me an email. This novice is hooked!

* Note: you can make fruit leather without a dehydrator if your oven can maintain an even and low oven temperature. See here and here.

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