How to Make Fruit Leather

When you have your own fruit trees (or access to someone else’s) sometimes you can feel a bit buried in fruit, whatever happens to be dropping off the trees at that time. Summer becomes a mad dash of canning, jamming and freezing, trying to preserve the bounty to enjoy throughout the year. One thing you can do with excess fruit of the season is to make fruit leather, sort of the beef jerky of fruit. I used to love this stuff as a kid, made for a great snack and instant energy, and was easy to pack. Last fall I made fruit leather with the leftover grape mush from making grape juice, and this week it was fruit leather from our neighbor Pat’s apricots (Pat’s apricots are so ripe that when you go to pick one, two more fall off the branch). What follows is a general guideline to making fruit leather, no set recipe. So much of it depends on the specific fruit you are working with.

Do you have a preferred way of making fruit leather? I’m curious to know. I imagine that not all fruit are best processed the same way, and some might work well mixed in with other things, like cherries with ground almonds for example. I know that some people prefer to process just the raw fruit; I like cooking the fruit first to up the intensity of the flavor, and kill any bacteria that might be lurking around on the fruit. When apple butter season starts, I may make a fruit leather batch with extra ground cloves, cinnamon and cider vinegar. The leftover fruit mush from making a clear jelly would be great for making fruit leather (thinking of the quince jelly now). If you have a favorite approach to fruit leather with a favorite fruit, please let us know in the comments.

Ingredients

  • Fresh fruit (apricots, peaches, plums, berries, apples, pears, grapes)
  • Water
  • Lemon juice
  • Sugar (if needed)
  • Spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg (optional)

Method

1 Rinse the fruit. If you working with stone fruit, take out the pits, chop the fruit. If working with apples or pears, peel and core them, then chop. If working with grapes, de-stem them.

Taste the fruit before proceeding. Note how sweet the fruit is. If very sweet (ripe Concord grapes for example) you will not need to add any sugar. If still a little tart, you may need to add some sugar in the next step.

2 Place fruit in a large saucepan. Add a half cup of water for every 4 cups of chopped fruit. Bring to a simmer, cover and let cook on a low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until the fruit is cooked through. Uncover and stir. Use a potato masher to mash up the fruit in the pan. Taste the fruit and determine what and how much sugar, lemon juice, or spices to add. Add sugar in small amounts (1 Tbsp at a time if working with 4 cups of fruit), to desired level of sweetness. Add lemon juice one teaspoon at a time to help brighten the flavor of the fruit. Add a pinch or two of cinnamon, nutmeg, or other spices to augment the flavor.

Continue to simmer and stir until any added sugar is completely dissolved and the fruit purée has thickened, another 5 or 10 minutes (or more).

Note if you are working with grapes - strain the juice out of the mashed grapes to make grape juice. Force what is left behind, after straining, through a food mill, to make the purée for the next step.

3 Put the purée through a food mill or chinoise. Alternatively purée it thoroughly in a blender or food processor. Taste again and adjust sugar/lemon/spices if necessary. The purée should be very smooth.

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4 Line a rimmed baking sheet with sturdy plastic wrap (the kind that is microwave safe). Pour out the purée into the lined baking sheet to about an 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness.

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5 Place the baking sheet in the oven, try to keep any plastic wrap from touch the sides of the oven or the oven racks. Also try to make sure that the plastic wrap hasn't folded back over on top of the purée. If this happens, the purée won't dry out. Heat the oven to a low 140°F. If you have a convection setting, use it, it will speed up the process and help dry out the purée. Let dry in the oven like this for as long as it takes for the purée to dry out and form fruit leather. We usually keep it in the oven overnight, so about 8-12 hours. The fruit leather is ready when it is no longer sticky, but has a smooth surface.

Alternatives to the oven. If you have a food dehydrator, this would be a great use of it. My mother suggested putting the tray in the weber grill, and leaving covered, in the sun all day. Sounds like a good trick, but I haven't tried it yet. My parents remember the traditional way of making fruit leather was just to tent the tray with some cheesecloth and leave it outside in the sun on a hot day.

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6 When the fruit leather is ready, you can easily peel it up from the plastic wrap. To store it, roll it in its plastic wrap, put it in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

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