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Fruit leather is tastier than it sounds

I like to consider myself a healthy eater, but I have a weak spot for candy.

I especially love gummy, extra chewy candy, and have been meaning to make fruit leather to see if it could be a healthy substitute for my sugar cravings.

Fruit leather is a dried fruit purée that turns out similar to a fruit roll-up. I’m happy to report that my experimental batch of strawberry fruit leather was delicious and worked as the perfect sweet treat after dinner.

You can make fruit leather with any puréed fruit in either a dehydrator or your oven set to 140 F. I opted for my oven for this first batch, though since my oven only goes down to 170 F, I kept the door propped open a couple inches to keep the temperature lower than 170 F. There are trays for dehydrators that can hold liquids and purées for drying, and I’ve heard you can also use parchment paper. Since I don’t own those trays and the parchment option made me a bit nervous I’d create a gooey mess, I stuck with my oven.

I took some frozen strawberries from back in May, and thawed about a pound of them for making fruit leather. I drained the berries well, and put them in my blender with one teaspoon of bottled lemon juice to add a tart kick and help maintain a bright color to the leather. I blended the berries and lemon juice and poured the purée onto a plastic-lined baking sheet. After tilting the sheet to evenly spread out the purée, into the oven it went for 10 hours.

Reading more about fruit leathers as it dried, I found that heating the purée in a pot before starting the drying process can cut down on the drying time. I started checking my leather on the hour starting at hour seven, and knew it was done when I touched the center of the purée and it was a bit sticky but completely dry. The fruit leather finished drying just after dinner, so my family and I ate it right away. It’s best stored in the refrigerator, and you can freeze it for longer storage.

I enjoyed the strawberry leather’s chewiness and rich sweetness. The berries I used were very ripe when I froze them, which I think helped give the leather a full flavor. There are many variations of fruit leathers and good recipes online that you can follow. I felt reassured that a no-recipe experiment with so little prep work turned out so well. The greatest challenge was having patience as a sweet, fruity smell wafted through my kitchen all day.

You can find more gardening and food preservation resources on Virginia Food Works’ website: www. virginiafoodworks. org/Home-Canning-Resources.

KATHARINE WILSON is the director Virginia Food Works. She can be reached at info@virginiafoodworks.org.