It is spring. For us this means fresh strawberries. Lots of fresh strawberries. They taste like heaven, especially since the only strawberries we see throughout the winter are last seasons frozen surplus-tasty but so clearly lacking the sun kissed warmth of a freshly picked berry. Strawberry season not only brings juice dripping smiles, like every successful crop it brings endless hours of processing in the kitchen. This year the patch is just a tad bit bigger than last year yet is producing twice as much. Sweet news. Right now we are picking baskets like this one daily.
Now let's take this bounty into the kitchen. The first thing we do is trim the tops, they go into the chicken scrap bucket, I think the chickens love strawberry season as much as we do! Trimmed berries fill a casserole dish headed for the freezer. This year we started using a Foodsaver. The berries absolutely must be a little frozen to be vacuumed packed. Ben has learned how to operate the device and he is now in charge.
Now this prepares us for a sweet winter. One of our favorite meals is flaxseed pancakes topped with homegrown strawberry syrup. These berries will cheer up a chilly morning when they are cooked up with a little maple syrup!
We also use the berries for fruit leather. This is a great way to pack a lot of nutrition and savings into a lunch box. My boys love strawberries but they do not always get eaten when I pack it in the lunch box, actually that is the case with most fruit. With fruit leather if the kids don't finish it, we can save it. It packs home well, unlike the half eaten pear or apple. Whenever we have a surplus of fruit I take the time to extend its life by making fruit leather. So here we are, two weeks of lunch box packing left and lots of strawberries. Let's make so e fruit leather!
First we prepare the fruit. For this batch I used our own strawberries and four mangos leftover from the last co-op order.
I purée the fruit in my food processor. I think a blender would work just fine. We are looking for a chunk free slurry! I have found that color is a huge factor when making fruit leather for kids. If it is red they will eat it guaranteed. Yellows maybe, brown (typical of fig purée) slim. I always try to add something red! Each fruit will impart its flavor so the kids are developing their palate without too much risk.
Once you have your pure fruit slurry (that is right no extra stuff!) you can move to the next step. I have done fruit leather in the oven, in a small circular dehydrator, and now in a large temperature controlled dehydrator. All work fine but you have to pay attention, especially in the oven. The ideal temperature is between 135 and 145 degrees. If you find your family likes the fruit leather I totally recommend making the purchase of a food dehydrator or sharing the expense with a friend or neighbor! I finally talked myself into spending g the money for an Excalibur dehydrator and I do not regret it. It is temperature controlled, has 15 square feet of space, and has fruit leather mats. Last year I was cutting all my mats out of parchment paper which was a total pain when I was making a lot. No matter what you need a mat, if you don't have one line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and pour your slurry.
Shake out the slurry gently trying to get level coverage. It is recommended to try to make the center slightly thinner than the edges since the edges will dry our more quickly. I have yet to be successful in this...
Load up your device of choice.
Set the temp.
Wait. It usually takes between 4-6 hours. You have to check it periodically. You are looking for pliability.
When you like the pliability you can peel it right off. I like to roll ours up and slice it. Usually the first peel goes straight to the kids!
So good. So nutritious. So easy. So pure. I encourage you to give a try. Find a local farm or farmers market and when the fruit is ripe, process it. I have made many batches of fruit leather at once and frozen it in rolls. It is a great way to eat fresh and whole without bumps, bruises, or stains in the backpack or lunch box!