On a Roll

By Kate Payne 
Photography by Jo ann Santangelo

For many years, my income map has included caring for children—from the just-months-old to the too-cool-for-school teenager. Last year, when I handed a birthday present to the five-year-old I care for, he squealed with delight, tore off the lime-green wrapping paper, lifted the quilted jelly jar high in the air and asked his mom, “Can I eat one now, please?” His mother pulled out two little fruit leather rolls from the jar and handed one to him and one to his nearly three-year-old sister. Between bites he told me this is his favorite thing that I make.

I perfected my fruit leather methodology last year when one of my canning class students brought me about 80 pounds of pears from her mother’s tree. The heaving grocery bags and boxes amassed on my porch beckoned to my food mill, and soon we were swimming in pear puree. I froze the fruit puree in quart-size freezer bags for future batches of leather.

As much or as little kitchen equipment may be used for successful fruit leather projects. A food mill isn’t essential, but it does save time with fruit preparation, and the milling can be a good project for kids to help with. Using a food processor is fine, too, but requires peeling and pitting certain fruits. I’ve used the fine screen of my mill for a smooth strawberry puree and I’ve milled unpeeled loquats twice—first through the medium screen and then again through the fine screen. Each fruit requires a little different handling to end up with a smooth puree.

I’ve had success making fruit leather using both a basic food dehydrator and an oven. It helps to have an oven that goes below 200 degrees, but I’ve found that a carefully watched tray at 200 degrees still works out fine. When using a dehydrator, I do one tray at a time and place parchment paper directly on the round screen—poking out the center with a knife to accommodate the upraised hole in the tray. Use the 135-degree setting for the first hour, and then raise the heat to 145 degrees for another 45 minutes, or until the leather is no longer tacky.

HGGH-Strawberry-spread

Don’t leave fruit leather in the oven or in the dehydrator unchecked. If life gets in the way and it’s not yet finished, turn off the heat and return to drying when someone is there to monitor it. Overcooked leather becomes crunchy (a still-tasty, but sort of depressing, end to leathering labors).

Homemade fruit rolls are a perfect gift for all ages and make great travel snacks. Now that the season for strawberries and loquats is here, consider reserving some of the bounty for this project.

 

HGGH-Strawberry-baking


STRAWBERRY LEATHER

Yields 1 cookie sheet of leather, approximately 8 to 12 small individual fruit rolls

1 pt. strawberries, stems trimmed
4½ t. sugar (may be omitted, but it helps preserve color
   and characteristic texture)

If using an oven, preheat to 175° (or 200°, if necessary). Chop the strawberries into small pieces and combine with the sugar in a medium saucepan. Warm over low heat until the sugar granules are dissolved. Raise the heat to medium and bring to a simmer—mashing the fruit as it softens to release more of the juice. Remove from the heat, allow the mixture to cool, then press through a fine sieve or run through a food mill. Cover an 11- by 17-inch rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper. Pour the pureed fruit onto the parchment and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly into a ¼-inch layer. Bake for 2 to 3 hours—until the puree no longer comes up on a finger when dabbed. It should still feel sticky to the touch, though. Peeking into the oven during the course of baking will actually help drop the temperature to where it might be if using a food dehydrator, so check on the leather often. Once the leather is ready, keep the parchment paper backing on and, using kitchen shears, cut the leather into strips. Roll up each strip, tie with kitchen twine and store in an airtight container for up to 2 months.


HGGH-Strawberry-Leather

LOQUAT LEATHER

Yields 1 cookie sheet of leather, approximately 8 to 12 small individual fruit rolls

1 lb. loquats
2 T. sugar
Pinch cinnamon, to taste (optional)
Pinch nutmeg, to taste (optional)

If using an oven, preheat to 175° (or 200°, if necessary). Halve the loquats from pole to pole, then seed, peel (if not using a food mill) and place the halves into a large saucepan. Cover with just enough water to completely submerge, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook at a low boil for about 15 minutes. After cooking, the fruit should still be intact but feel tender and soft. Drain and discard the liquid, then press the fruit through a fine sieve or run through a food mill. Place 1 cup of the puree into a medium saucepan and add the sugar. Bring to a simmer and remove the pan from the heat. Add the cinnamon and nutmeg, if using. Cover an 11- by 17-inch rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper. Pour the pureed fruit onto the parchment and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly into a ¼-inch layer. Bake for 2 to 3 hours—until the puree no longer comes up on a finger when dabbed. It should still feel sticky to the touch, though. Peeking into the oven during the course of baking will actually help drop the temperature to where it might be if using a food dehydrator, so check on the leather often. Once the leather is ready, keep the parchment paper backing on and, using kitchen shears, cut the leather into strips. Roll up each strip, tie with kitchen twine and store in an airtight container for up to 2 months.