Peach leather turned out to be our favorite preserved fruit last year. I say “our,” but I’m ashamed to admit that I mostly ate the delicacy for my solitary breakfasts, so my partner Mark didn’t get to enjoy the dried fruit. Once he finally got a taste of the peach leather, it became clear that I’d better make more this summer so that we could share from now on.
The first step in making any kind of fruit leather is to think about supplies and dehydrator space. Two cups of whole strawberries are going to turn into about a cup and a quarter of fruit puree, which in turn will fill up one medium-sized cookie sheet. Don’t pick more fruit than you have room for, or you’ll just have to gorge on the excess for supper.
Next, check the weather forecast. If you’re relying on sunshine to dehydrate your fruit, you’d better find at least a day and a half of hot, sunny weather. Don’t start your leather on a sunny afternoon if it’s slated to rain the next day, or your fruit will go bad.
If the leather turns gray (like this), starts to smell, or gets moldy, you’ll have to throw it out. To be on the safe side, it’s best to always start fruit leather first thing in the morning.
With those preparations out of the way, it’s very simple to make strawberry leather.
Rinse your fruits, then cut off the tops and turn the strawberries into puree in the food processor.
Measure how much puree you have and add one tablespoon of honey and half a tablespoon of lemon juice per cup — the honey sweetens your fruit and also helps the leather stick together, while the lemon juice preserves color and kills microorganisms.
Pour about a cup and a quarter of doctored puree into each cookie sheet and tilt the pan until the fruit evenly covers the surface. This will make a paper-thin leather, which is what’s called for with solar dehydrating. The thin layer of fruit will dry in a day or two. Were I running an electric dehydrator, I might use two or even three cups of puree per tray to make a thick leather like you’ll find in the store.
Stack your trays as shown above and you can carry up to five trays at once as you head out to your hot, dry spot. It’s possible to simply dehydrate fruit outside in the sun, but the process will take longer and you’ll have to cover the leather with a screen to keep out bugs while letting water escape. Mark wishes I would let him make me a real solar dehydrator (one of these days!) but in the meantime we’re using a Festiva we keep for parts to dry out fruit leathers.
Any location where the temperature [inside the car] reaches between 100 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit will work; higher temperatures will cook your fruit rather than drying it, reducing nutrients and flavor, while lower temperatures won’t dry the fruit before it goes bad.
If you’re using a ramshackle dehydrator like ours, you’ll want to check on your leather two or three times a day, moving wetter trays into the sunniest spots and removing finished trays. I discovered by accident that if you leave finished trays in the car overnight, just enough moisture will seep back into the leather that it will peel off the tray with ease. Of course, real people use Saran wrap underneath the fruit so that they don’t have to pry it loose, but since I don’t care about appearances, I ditch the disposables.
You can store dried fruit on the shelf for a few weeks, in the fridge for a few months, or just toss it in the freezer like we do. Around half a gallon of strawberries turns into about a cup of fruit leather, so space in the freezer won’t be a problem. The real trouble will be keeping your fingers out of this natural, vitamin-rich candy until the cold season rolls back around.