Until last week.
After our strawberry picking outing last week, I was looking for new and interesting ways to use my pounds and pounds of strawberries. And that is when the idea of preserving them hit me. I have a few jars of strawberry jam canned and in the pantry from the last time that strawberries went on super-sale at the grocery store (and yes, I know that jam with hand-picked berries would be better), so I wanted to try something different. So what are alternative preserving methods for fresh berries, other than jams or freezing them? Drying them. And if I am going to go the drying route, why not re-think the fruit leather idea?
I looked up several recipes, and landed on this one, mostly due to its simplicity.
I cut up enough berries to fill my two cup measuring cup twice (so, you know, four cups of cut berries) and cooked them down with half a cup of water. You can multiply or divide the recipe however you want, but the basic formula is half a cup of water for each four cups of fruit.
Once the berries were cooked and soft, I used my potato masher to, well, mash them up. I could have (and, arguably, should have...) used my immersion blender to really get a good, fine puree, but I was going low-tech this time. To the mashed berries, I added a little bit of vanilla sugar (seriously, I think I used about a tablespoon or so for the whole thing - the berries themselves were deliciously sweet) and a splash of orange juice. The recipe called for the juice of a lemon, but I had no lemons in the house. Or limes. But still wanted to give it the touch of citrus. So a splash of OJ it was.
Once the sugar and juice were mixed in, the mixture was again simmered until it began to thicken slightly. Mine didn't thicken all that much, but I wasn't overly concerned about that. The cooked berry puree was then carefully poured (I ladled mine, actually) onto a plastic-wrap-lined rimmed cookie sheet.
Then comes the long part.
I preheated my oven about as low as it can go:
Hi there! See me?
As you can see, I chose to go just a bit about the lowest setting, as my oven doesn't reliably hold it's temperature that low. The pan then went into the oven and, well, stayed there all day. Aaaaallllllll day. The fruit leather is done when it is dried out and not at all sticky to touch. Then just pull the pan out, let it cool for a bit (it cools quickly), and roll it up in the plastic wrap. Then you can cut the plastic wrap roll into shorter widths for individual sized portions.
I have to say, I was really happy with how this turned out! It had more texture to it than commercial fruit leather (fruit roll ups), but that can be corrected (if you want - I actually liked the texture...) by using a blender and, if desired, by straining out the strawberry seeds. And I felt good about letting little miss eat this (she thought it was candy!), whereas I don't at all like her to have the sugar, high fructose corn syrup and fake food dye heavy commercial versions.
I can't wait to try this with other fruits. I think, at the very least, raspberry and peach fruit leather are in our summer plans!
Strawberry Fruit Leather
(from Vintage Chica)
4 cups strawberries, stemmed, hulled and cut
1/2 cup water
lemon juice (to taste)
sugar (to taste)
Bring the berries and water to a simmer in a covered pot over medium heat. Allow the fruit to cook for 10-15 minutes until fully soft. Using a potato masher, mash the fruit until smooth. (You can use an immersion blender for this, or, if you wait until the mixture cools, you can use a blender or food processor). Add sugar one tablespoon at a time for taste (it probably won't need much) and a touch of lemon juice if desired. Simmer the mixture for another 5-10 minutes until it begins to thicken.
Spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray, then line the sheet with plastic wrap. Pour the mixture evenly onto the plastic wrap until it is about 1/8 of an inch thick. Bake the fruit mixture for 8-12 hours at your oven's lowest temperature.
Allow the fruit leather to cool before rolling and cutting.