We first made apricot leather after watching our neighbor make it. Hers was delicious! The family had not been enthusiastic about my attempts at drying fruit, but everyone was pleased with the new product.
People’s reactions to it are interesting. For an assigned demonstration in her English class, Marlane took several rolls of fruit leather and explained how it was made. Then she passed around a strip.
“Everyone be sure to sample it,” she said.
The first young man gave it a questioning look. He tasted a tiny speck gingerly. Then his face brightened as his tastebuds began working. “Hey, I want more!” The fruit leather disappeared in short order and students were asking for more.
My Armenian friend George Mardikian, who operates Omar Khayyam’s Restaurant in San Francisco, says, “Fruit leather is an ancient method of preserving fruit. I was born and raised in Armenia, where the plentiful apricots were a lifesaver for the Armenians. We dried the pulp on sheets of cardboard. Our parents would roll a big piece of leather and give it to us for a between-meals sustainer.”
Making fruit leather is a family affair at our house: picking, preparing, and nibbling. And a piece slipped into a letter to a missionary or a family member away from home says, “We’re thinking of you.”
Fruit leather is an ideal snack while traveling as well as good energy pickup for campers or Scouts. Called leather because it resembles a sheet of pliable hide, it weighs light in the pack and is an excellent storage item at home, taking little space.
Dried fruit leather keeps indefinitely. I have kept fruit in the freezer for a whole year, with very little discoloration, and it has made excellent leather.
Choose fruit that is ripe and full of flavor. Overripe fruit that cannot be salvaged for anything else can be used for fruit leather. The fruit may be pureed, measured, and stored in containers in the freezer. When time and space permit, remove a package at a time, allow to thaw, flavor, and proceed according to instructions below.
Wash and pit apricots and remove discolorations. Don’t peel. Place four or five halves in food blender, and turn to puree setting. Add more halves gradually. (Doing one cup of puree at a time is easier on the blender.) Add 1 tablespoon honey to each cup of apricot puree. (Do not add honey to chilled fruit; heat the fruit so the honey will blend. Sugar can be substituted for honey.) One-fourth teaspoon cinnamon or a dash of nutmeg may be added for taste variety.
Line a cookie sheet (about 17 inch by 12 inch) with plastic wrap. This size cookie sheet holds about 2 cups of puree. Spread puree evenly over the plastic, but do not push it completely to edges. Leave a bit of plastic showing for easy removal.
Place on a card table or picnic table in the hot sun to dry. If the plastic is bigger than the cookie sheet and extends up the sides, anchor it with clip clothespins so it will not flop down and cover the edges of the leather. Puree should dry in the sun in six to eight hours. (The heat of the sun and the humidity make drying time variable.)
While fruit is still warm from the sun, ease it up around the edges and peel off the plastic. If it has cooled, place it in the oven and turn the indicator to the lowest heat possible, 150° F. (Too high heat will disintegrate the plastic.) In a few moments the leather will be warm again and can be peeled off the wrap smoothly. Roll the loosened leather in the plastic and store in paper sacks.
If leather is not sufficiently dried at the end of the day’s heat, finish it in the oven set at the lowest possible temperature, or set it out again the next day. Leave the oven door ajar so moisture can escape.
If it isn’t warm enough outside, the oven may be used at the lowest temperature. Place the rack as high as possible. This process dries the fruit more rapidly and may turn it brittle. Then you have fruit chips—but fruit chips are good too. A slight cooked flavor may also result from this method.
Another way is to leave the cookie sheet of puree where it gets the sun through the window. This requires a longer time for evaporation. Surprisingly, my thermometer registered 115° F. at the peak heat in midwinter. You may find that the edges disappear as they dry—by means of nibblers, big or little. Sometimes there is nothing to store.
Apple Fruit Leather: Use early summer apples, such as astrachan or transparent; do not use crisp, hard apples. Use 2 cups puree per cookie sheet. Sweeten to taste. For variation, blend in 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon or 1/2 cup coconut.
Peach Leather: Wash peaches thoroughly to remove fuzz. Peel, if desired. Use 2 1/2 to 3 cups puree. Sweetening is optional; cinnamon or nutmeg may be added for variety. If puree is too thin, fruit chips result.
Pear Leather: Wash pears and remove centers. Leather is grainy if pears aren’t peeled. One tablespoon of water may be needed to start the blender working properly, since pears are not as juicy as some fruits. Do not add sweetener. Spread 2 to 2 1/2 cups puree on sheet.
Plum Leather: Wash and pit plums, and add 2 tablespoons honey to 2 cups puree.
Raspberry Leather: Wash berries. Use 1 1/2 to 2 cups raspberry puree. Add 1 tablespoon honey. Dry in sun or oven.
Rhubarb Leather: Wash fruit and cut it into small pieces. Put 2 tablespoons water in blender and add rhubarb pieces. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons honey to 1 cup rhubarb pulp. Since this will not fill the cookie sheet, keep it away from the edges. Acid from the juice may get under the edges of the plastic and discolor the cookie sheet. Distribute pulp evenly with fork. Rhubarb and raspberries may be combined for an unusual taste treat.
Waistline watchers: Nutritional food values multiply in dried fruit, but so do calories. Since moisture is gone, the residue is concentrated. One large fresh peach dries to approximately a six-inch square of leather. For diabetics or weight watchers, add artificial sweeteners when necessary.