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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Fruit leather

Even when we can't grow fruit and veg ourselves, we still try to buy local, seasonal food, which isn't great for fruit in winter. Last winter I got pretty fed up of apples. In the interests of more variety this year, I've been thinking about preserving fruit by drying. I did try straightforward drying for a handful of blackcurrants, just by spreading them out in a basket in the conservatory. That worked, but took quite a while, and I'm not sure it would be so easy with larger fruit (and most fruits are larger than blackcurrants).

As an alternative to drying fruit whole, they can be pulped first and spread out to make fruit leather. I tried this for the first time last year using a mixture of rosehips and haws, and it was delicious, so I'm repeating that as well as extending the range this year. Haws (fruit of the hawthorn tree) are invaluable for providing pectin, which is essential for fruit leather. My first batch was made with blackberries and haws picked when foraging in Wiltshire. I stewed the fruit in a pan together, roughly equal quantities of the two kinds, and kept stewing it until most of the water had evaporated.

Once I had a thick, stodgy mess in the pan, I pushed it through a seive to remove the pips and stones. This is hard work and takes ages, but can be done whilst watching telly, so it's not too bad. When I got fed up of trying to separate pulp from pips and had a suitably thick paste in the bowl, I tasted it and added a bit of honey to sweeten. You could use sugar, but I fancied honey - not the runny kind, though, because I didn't want to add too much liquid. Once it tasted about right* I spread it thinly on a non-stick baking tray.


Spreading fruit pulp on a baking tray. This one's damson. I did have a better picture of an earlier batch, but deleted it by mistake. Sorry.

This then needs drying. In warmer weather I could probably do this in the conservatory, but it would need protection from flies. As it's pretty cold and damp here at the moment, I'm using the oven for drying. This means putting the tray in the oven on a very low temperature for an hour or two, then turning the oven off and leaving overnight. If it's still sticky in the morning, put the oven on again for a bit. I think opening the door periodically would probably help, too.

I did try being economical by putting one batch of leather on a low shelf while cooking cakes on a higher shelf. They don't need the oven very hot, so I thought that would be OK. It was OK, but the resulting leather had a strong taste of caramel, which might not be what you're aiming for.

When dry, fruit leather looks like this:


Fruit leather (damson again) being peeled off the baking tray.

As these were stickier on the tray side than the air side (unsurprisingly) I decided to fold them over so they stuck to themselves and made double thickness leather, which I then cut into snack bar sized pieces.

As you'll have picked up from the rest of this post, I've made several batches of this. The first was blackberry and haw, using the Wiltshire hedgerow fruit - most delicious. The second was bilberry and haw using local fruit. The bilberries were right at the end of their season and the haws were barely at the start of theirs, so neither fruit was at its best. This was OK, but not as good at the blackberry one. The next batch was damson (no haws in this one as damsons are high pectin themselves), using a pound of windfalls that next door's tree had dropped onto our driveway. I couldn't bear to see them sitting there going rotten! That one was very tasty but possibly a bit too sharp. I probably should have added a bit more honey.

I have another batch of damsons on the go now (I got permission from the neighbours to actually pick their fruit). This time I've left the stewed pulp fairly wet and hung to drip for cordial first, then I'll make leather with the remaining pulp. I'm assuming the flavour will be less intense as I'll have taken some off for cordial, but damsons have a lot of flavour to start with, so there should be plenty to go round. I'm also planning a rosehip one, as that was so nice last year... in fact, as the haws are now a bit riper, I might just go and do that right now!

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*One advantage of fruit leather is that it needs much less sugar (or honey) than other methods of preserving fruit, such as jam,

7 comments:

  1. We used to eat fruit leather as kids (processed, of course, not homemade). You get sick of apples? I loved to eat my fruit leather with apples! ha! Excessive, no doubt.

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  2. I made lots of this last year for the children to have in their lunchboxes over the winter. DD2 could never get sick of apples, but the other two do. I dried apple rings too, and she'd eat them by the fist full!

    Rhubarb makes good leather in the spring. I must try the rosehip and haw combination as there are lots of them round here. How did you de-hair the rosehips, out of interest?

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  3. With a small knife and lots of patience! You've just reminded me what a fiddle it is to process rosehips (I didn't do it straight after I posted...) but I still think they're worth it.

    Does rhubarb set on its own? I have a little stewed rhubarb in the freezer left over from making cordial in the spring.

    Demandra, apples with fruit leather would ring the changes nicely. It was six months of, "Have we got any fruit? Ah, just apples again," that got a bit boring towards the end.

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  4. Thank you, just tried haw leather last night with no sugar and it's a bit....medicinal but great. I'll try haw, blackberry and rosehip today, good to know about the hips needing dehairing (im relatively new to this). Did you use any water when you cooked them?

    Great to see what you are doing. Good luck~Kee

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    Replies
    1. Hello :-)
      Yes, I think I did use a little water, just to get it started. Did you use any for the haws? If not then you could probably get away without. Blackberries are juicy (well, the juicy ones are) so they might provide enough liquid on their own. You don't want to add too much water because you then have to evaporate it off again.
      Have fun!

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  5. I just made my first batch of fruit leather with apples and blackberries from the Herne Bay downs (Richard and Niamh got a bit bored with my jamming, ha ha ha). Niamh says it makes a lovely lunch box treat, and Richard the fruit refusenik actually likes it. :-)

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    Replies
    1. Hooray for fruit leather :-)

      You've prompted me to think again about making some more this year. I made a batch of damson, but I kind of forgot about doing other fruit.

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