Many of us who have gardens and orchards would like our family to eat more fruit and less junk food. We have tried putting our fruit and berries in bowls on the counter, in fruit salads, and on the table at mealtime, but people do not seem interested. So why not dry some of the fruit you have harvested and turn it into sweet, delicious, natural snacks for them to enjoy?
Making fruit leather
Making fruit leather is a good way to salvage fruit that is not firm enough for canning but is not yet rotten. If the fruit has dark spots or bruises, trim them away before chopping up the fruit.
Fresh fruit (apricots, peaches, plums, berries, apples, pears, grapes– about 4 cups of fruit fills one cookie tray)
Cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves – if desired
Sugar (for tart fruits like apples, plums and pears)
Cover cookie trays with waxed paper or plastic wrap and set aside. Rinse fruit and pit or seed if necessary. Chop into small pieces. Dip light pieces of fruit into lemon juice and put into your blender. Add ½ cup of water for each 2 cups of fruit. Puree fruit. Taste fruit to see if it needs more sweetness – add sugar as desired.
At this point you can pour the pureed fruit onto the prepared trays. Spread evenly over the waxed paper 1/8 to ¼ inch deep. Cover with cheesecloth and place outside in a warm, sunny place to dry.
Another option is you can pour the fruit into a large saucepan and bring to a simmer – this will deepen the fruit flavor of your leather. Cover and cook over low heat 10 to 15 minutes, cooking the fruit well. Stir well. Add lemon juice a teaspoon at a time to help enhance the flavor. Add a pinch or two of your chosen spices. Pour the pureed fruit onto the prepared trays. Spread evenly over the waxed paper 1/8 to ¼ inch deep. Cover with cheesecloth and place in a warm place to dry, or place the cookie sheets in the oven. If you are using plastic wrap, keep it from touching the sides, racks, or bottoms of the oven. Also keep it from folding over top of the fruit. Heat oven to 140 – 150 degrees. Let dry completely – 8 to 12 hours or overnight. The fruit leather is ready when it is no longer sticky, has a smooth surface, and peels easily from the waxed paper or plastic wrap. Roll up in plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator or freezer.
Choose the fruit you would like to use; bananas, apples, peaches, cherries, grapes and plums make great dried fruit snacks. No matter your choice, the process is about the same and you should only use fully ripe, unblemished fruit. Generally speaking, it will take about 25 pounds of ripe fruit to make 5 pounds of dried fruit – this is why buying dried fruit is so expensive.
Wash and towel dry the fruit well. If using bananas, peaches, or pears, they should be peeled – other fruits do not have to be peeled. Light colored fruit (apples, peaches, apricots, and bananas) should be dipped in lemon juice before drying. The acid helps to maintain their natural colors and lessens darkening.
Fruit should be cut in ¼ inch slices or rings. Smaller fruit, like apricots and plums, can be halved. Grapes and cherries may be left whole – prick the skins to vent, allowing the steam to escape. Prepare other fruit as follows:
Apples- Core, then cut them into slices or rings.
Apricots- Cut in half and remove the pits.
Bananas- Peel and cut into slices.
Cherries- Remove stems and pits; cut in half or leave whole.
Grapes- Remove stems; cut in half or leave whole.
Peaches- Peel and remove stems and pits.
Pears- Core, peel, and then cut into slices or rings.
To dry in the oven, heat 140 – 150 degrees. Lay the prepared fruit in a single layer on cookie sheets. When oven is preheated, place the cookie sheets in the oven and prop the door open slightly so the steam can escape. Instead of using cookie sheets, you can also cover the oven racks with cheesecloth and place the fruit on the cloth in single layers. Check the fruit often, rotating the oven racks or cookie sheets and turning the fruit every hour or so. On average apples can take 8 to 12 hours to dry in the oven. Some fruits can take up to 24 hours to dry.
When the fruit has lost most of its moisture it will be leathery. Check a couple of pieces from each tray for dryness. Allow to cool completely; then store in resealable plastic bags or airtight containers and keep in a cool dry place. Fruit snacks should be eaten quickly to avoid spoiling.