When I bought my food dehydrator more than a decade ago, I found an unusual item in the box – a donut-shaped plastic sheet that fit over the top rack of the dehydrator. I wondered what it was for. Once I figured out the answer, that sheet and the dehydrator it came with soon became indispensable for turning fruit into a healthy snack my family finds addictive – fruit leather.
If you have a food dehydrator already, you’ll know how great it is for making apple chips, perhaps the easiest of all dried snacks, as well as for turning excess garden produce into the makings for soups, stews and do-it-yourself camping food. Dehydrating removes the moisture from fruit, vegetables and even meats, shrinking their volumes and making them efficient to store, especially for those with limited shelf space. I’ve churned out many batches of healthy kale chips in the dehydrator, using only olive oil and nutritional yeast for flavoring, and then watched with satisfaction as my 9-year-old devoured them like potato chips.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, consider it a worthwhile investment from both a health and an economic perspective. And while it’s possible to use an oven for the same purpose, the lowest temperature setting on many ovens is 200°F (93°C), which can still be hot enough to brown the food you’re trying to only dehydrate. Still, if you’d like to try throwing a pan of fruit leather in the oven before investing in a dehydrator, be my guest. The Internet has many good suggestions on how to do it.
Fruit leather is a food-waste champ, taking care of those rapidly-browning bananas and almost-overripe pears and peaches in short order. It’s ridiculously easy to make, too. Simply pour a jar of applesauce onto your greased sheet before bed, turn on the dehydrator and, the next morning, peel off the apple leather to add to your kids’ lunchboxes.
Frozen rhubarb and frozen strawberries.
I’ve experimented with fruit leather flavors and have never been disappointed. One of my triumphs involved a small bag of last summer’s frozen strawberries, cooked first with frozen rhubarb, then pureed with pears that were about to turn brown. I added just enough honey to moderate the tartness of the rhubarb, and poured the beautiful ruby-colored sauce onto the tray for an overnight stay at medium heat in the dehydrator.
I check my leather after 6 – 7 hours of drying time to see how it’s doing. The time required to fully dehydrate your fruit depends on how thick your puree is, its sugar content and the make of your dehydrator. Some leathers take 8 hours to dehydrate; others take 15. You know it’s ready when it peels easily off its sheet.
Here are some tips for making the best fruit leather at home in your own dehydrator. Feel free to experiment with types of fruit and drying times, if you like to play with flavors and textures. It’s actually pretty hard to mess it up. Even if you forget the puree in the dehydrator for a few extra hours, you’ll end up with the fruit version of peanut brittle, which isn’t a bad thing!
Tips for Making Fruit Leather:
Use high-pectin fruit. Try applesauce or pureed raw pears, peaches, plums or bananas. These fruits contain high levels of pectin, the starch that helps jams to gel and helps to hold fruit leather together.
Blend berries with high-pectin fruit. Some berries, including strawberries and raspberries, are low in pectin, which means you will need to add a fruit with a higher level of pectin to the mix. A 50/50 ratio of berries to other fruit should give your leather the right texture.
Use frozen fruit, if you wish. Fruit leather is a great way to use up frozen berries, rhubarb, applesauce or bananas. Experiment with flavor combinations using the 50/50 ratio rule for berries and other fruit.
Minimize sweeteners.You can use honey, maple syrup, sugar or a sugar substitute to sweeten your puree, but go easy. Too much sugar can make your leather stick to the drying tray, and can cause the leather to take longer to dry. Keep in mind that fruit gets sweeter when it’s dried, and sweeten accordingly.
Filling the food dehydrator tray with the fruit puree.
Grease your sheet. Don’t forget to grease your sheet using vegetable oil before adding your purée or you’ll have a hard time prying it loose later.
Spread it thin. Dehydrating cookbooks such as Mary Bell’s Complete Dehydrator Cookbook suggest spreading a 1/4” layer of puree on your greased sheet. Mary also suggests that 3 cups of fruit purée is enough to make one 12” square fruit-leather sheet. (Maybe a little less for a rounded dehydrator sheet.)
Wrap it up. After you’ve peeled your dried leather off of its drying sheet, wrap it in wax or parchment paper scroll-style before storing in an airtight container. Leathers kept at room temperature will last for 1 year, though I doubt you’ll ever have them around that long.
Fruit leather is a great snack for kids of any age to enjoy all year long. Get your family involved in making a batch for a fun wintertime activity.
Elizabeth Peirce is an award-winning author, editor, gardener and teacher. Her book You Can Too! Canning, Pickling, and Preserving the Maritime Harvest is available from Nimbus Publishing and at all major bookstores. Her new book Grow Hope: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Food Garden At Home will be released in early 2021. Elizabeth offers workshops that focus on how to grow and preserve our own food and she is hard at work on an online course called "Gardening in Tough Times." Visit her website at elizabethpeirce.ca.