Fruit leather is surprisingly easy to make, writes Kiwi Gardener's Kristina Jensen.
I am amazed at the popularity of fruit leather these days. It seems everyone is making it a key ingredient in their lunchboxes and in terms of adding fruit and fibre to your diet, that’s a good thing. What lots of folks don’t know is (a) many commercial fruit leathers have extra sugar added to them, (b) they are often made from non-organic produce, and (c) fruit leather is very easy to make yourself, either in a food dehydrator or in your kitchen oven. I can guarantee your children and friends will think you are a superhero if you start making fruit leather and because the sky is the limit as far as which fruits you can use, get creative and choose the fruits your family likes the best. The only problem is finding a good place to hide it because it will disappear in no time without severe rationing!
I have always owned a food dehydrator: mine is a large Harvest Maid model that I bought for $5 at a garage sale after racing off to the nearest power point to test it. This year, I invested in additional fruit leather trays for my dehydrator because it only came with one and it seemed very inefficient to me to only make one at a time. If you decide to dry your fruit leather in the oven, then all you need are baking trays and baking paper.
This year, I also discovered that using crab apples in my fruit leather makes for a very tasty snack indeed. Crab apples have a high percentage of pectin and pectin is what makes jams and jellies firm and what gives apple sauce its texture. Adding 50% crab apple to my fruit leather mixtures has resulted in a chewier leather, plus it helps to hold the pulp together in a sheet while it is drying, giving it increased elasticity to allow for rolling it up without cracking.
To cook or not to cook has been my only dilemma: initially, I only made fruit leathers from raw fruit pulp, but since experimenting with cooking the fruit first, I have swung over to the cooked camp. Raw fruit leathers, in my experience, are tougher and not as pliable whereas the cooked ones are chewy and supple. But, it’s up to you. Obviously cooking the fruit has its downside in terms of destroying valuable vitamins in the process, but it also serves to concentrate the flavour and removes some of the water, thereby reducing the drying time.
It’s also up to you how much sweetener you add. I prefer to use only honey and not much at that. One tablespoon per sheet is plenty, I find, to compliment the sweetness of the fruit. Lemon juice is a favourite ingredient – it really gives your fruit leather a zing! The other important factor in making fruit leather is to choose organic fruit if possible. Since the fruit is being concentrated down, it is a healthy choice to choose organic and concentrate the goodness rather than the pesticides.
My favourite combos:
50/50 ‘Black Boy’ peach and crab apple
• 60/40 apple and feijoa
• 50/25/25 fig, apple and feijoa
• 100% persimmon (this one is raw as all the flavour disappears from persimmons when I cook them)
• 50/50 crab apple and rhubarb
• 60/20/20 fig, date and rhubarb with lemon juice
• Equal measures of strawberries or Blueberries, feijoas and apple (usually I use frozen berries for this one)
1. Rinse the fruit and/or berries. You will need approximately 3-4 cups of fruit pulp per tray.
2. Cut any blemishes, marks or rot off the washed fruit and remove pips if you are using stone fruit. Peel if you want to, although this is not necessary.
3. Place the prepared fruit in a large saucepan and, if necessary, add ¼ cup of water for every 3 cups of fruit. You can add lemon juice and spices such as cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg at this point, too.
4. Bring the fruit to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
5. Remove from the heat and mash with a potato masher.
6. Let the fruit cool completely and then puree it using a food processor or stick mixer.
7. Prepare your drying surface: if using oven trays, cover each with baking paper, folding up the edges to form a barrier so that the pulp doesn’t leak over the side. If using a dehydrator, grease the surface of the trays generously with vegetable oil using a pastry brush or paper towel.
8. Spread the pulp out over the trays – it should be quite thick and as even as possible.
9. Oven method: Heat your oven to 60°C and insert the baking tray. Make sure the baking paper hasn’t folded back over the puree – this will prevent it from drying. If you have a convection setting (fan oven), this will speed up the process. Let it dry in the oven for 6-12 hours. The fruit leather is ready when it is tacky, but no longer sticky, and has a smooth surface. Peel back the edges and if it does not stick, it’s probably ready.
Dehydrator method: Your dehydrator should come with instructions for drying times but if not, I find that most fruit leathers dry overnight set at 50°C. I usually rotate the trays halfway through to dry them evenly and often turn them when they are close to being done to dry the bottom surface.
10. Once your fruit leather has cooled, peel it off the baking paper or tray and cut it into manageable pieces. You can roll it up and pack it into air-tight containers or layer the sections into snap-lock bags. I keep mine in my pantry, which is quite cool and dark, but you can keep it in the fridge if you wish.