There were some childhood staples that didn’t make many appearances in my childhood. To put it in context, I’m an 80’s kid all the way, so the staples were lots and lots of sugar and some pretty bitchin’ cartoons.
There were some sugary snacks we just didn’t buy in our household, like Fruit Roll Ups, which (OMG) according to Wikipedia has 5 types of sugar and comes in at a whopping 37 grams of sugar. And some cartoons were not OK – GI Joe and He-Man – but some that were OK – Transformers and She-Ra. Don’t ask; even my brain hurts trying to understand why.
But don’t get me wrong, we definitely had our share of sugar: packed into Kool-Aid, bought at the corner shop in candy form, baked into cookies and even poured into Rice Krispy cereal. Yes, poured. Would any parents today put the sugar bowl out for their kids at breakfast? You may get sent to child protective services, along with those parents who let their kids run the neighborhood.
On the one hand, the thought makes the part of me who thrives on sweet things craving. I have dreams about that gritty, super sweet milk at the bottom of my bowl after finishing my cereal. But on the other hand, the thought makes me cringe. No wonder I find sugar so hard to kick. It always finds a way of sneaking back into my life. I’m not totally back to my old sugar-in-the-cereal life, but now that I’m a mom I am thinking twice about some of the choices I make for me and my son as he starts to eat real food.
I also don’t want to swing to the complete opposite side and never let my son touch any refined sugar ever. I just want to pick and choose my battles wisely.
Fruit Roll-Ups and all those other little “fruit” gummy snacks are huge staples for lots of kids today. Half an aisle at Target seems to be devoted to this stuff. And no wonder, they are super convenient, your picky eater will eat them and maybe there is some tiny amount of real fruit in them. And, while I have baked and cooked my way through some things I wouldn’t normally make from scratch, making a legit Fruit Roll-Up sounds hard and unappealing on all levels.
So why would I try this? While thumbing through my cookbooks for inspiration on our latest month’s topic – strawberries – I hit upon the idea of making fruit leather, aka Fruit Roll-Ups sans all that sugar. This involves dehydration … which I literally just shot down when Amy suggested I make dried strawberries. She is the only person I know who owns a food dehydrator and has found a place for it in all of the kitchens she’s inhabited, regardless of the little amount of storage she has. Well, here I am … posting about dehydrating strawberries!
It turns out, you can dehydrate using your oven, although the dedicated dehydrator makes it easier and convenient. It can take many hours so, if you’re going to do this a lot, you may want to invest in a dedicated appliance so your oven is freed up.
Rolling your own fruit leather is actually a really fun and creative idea. You can do almost any fruit and mix in different flavors or sweeteners, like honey or agave nectar. Of course, the more liquid you add or the more wet the fruit is when you start to dehydrate, the longer the process will take.
In celebration of our month long love affair with strawberries and the strawberry season hitting in May in Virginia, I knew what fruit I would choose. It’s also my favorite fruit – whole, jammed, savoried, cocktailed and, now, leathered. Yes, we’ve talked about these perfectly amazing little fruits before, but since there is so much you can do with them, dedicating this month to them makes a lot of yummy sense.
Strawberry Fruit Leather
Throw in some herbs or sweetener to take this fruit leather up a level.
2 cups strawberries, fresher the better
Puree the strawberries, along with any additional ingredients you wish.
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Evenly spread out the puree onto the parchment paper in a large rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick. Place in the center of the oven and cook for 5 to 7 hours, checking after 5. The leather should start to dry from the outside in and it should be getting sticky. The leather is done when it’s sticky all over.
Once done, remove from oven and gently peel the leather off of the parchment paper. Flip over and return to the pan, then the oven for another 30 minutes.
Pull from oven and place another roll of parchment paper over the top. Roll the paper and leather up like a Swiss roll. Use a knife to cut the leather into 1 inch pieces.
Store the fruit leather in the fridge for up to several weeks. If left on the counter, moisture can get back in and cause mold to form.