For the successful gardener late summer can be a frantic scurry of preserving, canning, dehydrating and freezing the gardens bounty before old man winter snows on your parade. One method of preserving that is frequently over-looked by the modern gardener is making Fruit Jerky , also known as fruit leathers.
Fruit jerky is homemade dehydrated fruit rolled out into sheets. They're the original fruit roll up. Fruit leathers are made by pureeing fruit and pouring onto a flat surface for drying. When dehydrated , the fruit is lifted and rolled. It's commonly called fruit leather.
Fruit jerky / fruit leathers can be made without any added sugar, they are a healthy choice for snacks or desserts. Fresh, frozen or canned fruit can be used. Leftover fruit pulp from juicing and making jelly can also be blended and made into fruit rolls.
Making the Puree
1. Test taste any fruit before proceeding. if it has the slightest taste of decay - trash it. Note how sweet the fruit is. If it is extremely sweet you won't need to add any sweeteners or sugar. If still a little tart, you may need to add some sugar in the next step.
Select only ripened or slightly overripe fruit. Wash the fruit in cool water.
2. Prearing the Fruit : Remove any peels, seeds, stem or rot spots.
Cut it into small chunks, unless of course you are using small berries.
3. Purée the fruit in a blender or processor until smooth. Add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice for every 2 cups of fruit to prevent darkening and oxidizing.
Whether you are using home preserved, canned or fresh fruits you will want to first remove any excess liquids. For canned fruits drain the liquids and set them aside- don't discard them just yet.
Puree the fruit until smooth like apple sauce, if it's too thick or pasty add some of the juice you set aside. If using fresh fruit you shouldn't have this problem, however if you do add a little lemon juice or a compatible fruit juice, water will also suffice.
4. Additional Additives : I like to add 1/2 teaspoon of honey for every 2 of lemon juice. This is not absolutely necessary, but it does make a sweeter fruit roll , and eliminates any sour tastes from the lemon juice. You can also add sugar ¼ to ½ cup for each 2 cups of fruit. Stevia ,a natural sweetener can also be added to enhance sweetness. Artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame or Saccharin are also used by some people to reduce tartness while reducing calories.
Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, mace, mint, nutmeg , pumpkin pie spice can be added. Use sparingly, and use common sense- you don't want to add a flavor that will not blend well with the base material / fruit. Use small amounts to see how it effects the flavor and keep track of how much you've added for future reference.
Drying the Fruit Puree
Pour the puree onto cookie trays or baking sheets to a thickness of about 1/8 inch. If you are drying in the oven, restaurant grade food plastic can be used so long as you maintain a low oven temperature - no more than 140 F. There are concerns that chemicals from the plastic can leech into the food. This is somewhat true. However, the U.S. FDA does not feel that the amount of leeching is a threat to health .
The FDA states that the migration levels of substances added to food grade plastics, are within the margin of safety. I prefer to add a fine layer of corn syrup, corn oil or vegetable oil to the pan so it peels off easily. The corn syrup will sometimes leave a fine crust- but it's ok.
Avoid pouring purée too near the edge of the trays. To dry in a food dehydrator, there are Food Grade Plastic Dehydrator sheetsDehydrator sheets and screens you should be using, which can be purchased online if not available locally. They can take anywhere from 6 to 16 hours to dry out , depending on the size of the fruit leather / jerky . Sun drying can take up to 2 days.
Optimal temperature for drying fruit jerky is around 140ºF. They dry from the outside edges inwards towards the center. You can test for dryness by touching the center of the jerky, there should be no indentation.
While it's still warm, peel from the tray, layer with plastic and roll it up . The plastic which some people add before dehydrating will keep the layers separated from each other and prevent melding. Fruit jerky, unlike beef jerky doesn't store for very long periods, only up to a year or thereabouts. They can also be frozen - wrapped in plastic or freezer safe bags.