How to Make Fruit Leather
Fruit leather is one of my favorite trail foods. It doesn't spoil, it's all natural and packs well—and it's amazingly quick and easy to make yourself! This tutorial creates strawberry leather in particular, but you can replace the strawberries with almost any fruit or even combine two or three different fruits into a single leather. Our homemade fruit leather is 100% natural with no artificial colors or flavors. If you use organic ingredients, it'll even be oraganic fruit leather! Not to mention that by making it yourself, you don't generate a lot of packaging waste that you'll find with store-bought leathers. Not only is that good for the environment, but it also means less trash to carry on your back when you're hiking the trail! I really can't say enough good things about making your own fruit leathers!
What You'll Need
- 2 lbs. strawberries: For this tutorial, I'll be making strawberry leather, but you can use pretty much any kind of fruit. I've made strawberry-banana leathers, strawberry-blueberry leathers, pure-blueberry leathers, apple-cinnamon leathers and more.
- ¼ cup honey: Use more for a sweeter leather, use less for a less-sweet leather.
- cooking spray: Pam or any other spray that will make sure your leather doesn't stick to the plastic trays.
- blender: It doesn't need to be fancy—just something that works.
- dehydrator: If you don't own a dehydrator, don't give up! It is possible to dehydrate food with your oven. If you plan to do a lot of dehydrating, however, I'd likely recommend an investment in a dehydrator. Amazon.com has some good ones available. And to dehydrate in bulk, you'll definitely want a few extra trays and solid inserts. (I have eight that I can fire up at once for my dehydrating needs.)
Fill up your blender with fruit and add honey. No, you don't have to strain the strawberry seeds out. I don't even bother to cut the green stems of the strawberries off. Blend it all! There are probably nutrients in the seeds and stems that you won't get in the rest of the fruit. Once it's all mashed up, you'll still see the seeds, but they're small and no big deal—and the green stems magically disappear in the liquefied concoction. Plus, no waste! Good for the environment. Hurray!
Now blend away until it's a thick liquid. If the blender has trouble blending at first, add a little water. A little liquid at the bottom can help the blender get a "bite" on the strawberries, and water will just dehydrate off anyhow so no harm done.
Use the solid plastic trays that come with your dehydrator and cover them with a cooking spray. If you forget the cooking spray, it'll be a nightmare getting your leather off the trays later! (Trust me, learn from my mistakes!)
Then pour out your strawberry-honey blend around the outer edges of the tray and use a spoon or something to smooth out the thick areas. The fruit blend shouldn't be more than about 1/8" (3mm) thick. Try to keep the blend from coating the area near the middle of the tray. (I didn't do a great job of this in my photo, but the leather is much thinner near the middle than along the edges even if it's not obvious in the photo.) The leather will shrink during the dehydration process and pull everything inward which is why it's better to leave a little gap on the inside edges.
Set your dehydrator to about 140°F (60°C) and wait for the leather to dry. I'll usually leave it overnight, but check up on it after 6 to 8 hours. The strawberry leather, obviously, should be leathery to the touch. If you dry it too much, the leather will be brittle and not as tasty so it's important not to leave it in the dehydrator for too long. (If you do leave it too long, however, the leather is still edible—it just doesn't have that nice, leathery texture to it.)
The leather will have shrunk a bit during dehydration and cracked or have holes in the middle of it. That's normal and nothing to worry yourself about.
Some of my trays seem to cook faster than others, so I'll check each tray individually and remove the ones that are completed. Leave the other trays for another hour or two before checking back again. Repeat as needed until all of the trays are done.
Let the strawberry leather cool to room temperature, then slice it and dice it to your preferred dimensions. Most people roll it up like a fruit rollup, but for the trail, I prefer stacking them flat. It doesn't need to be refrigerated—I've eaten them on my thru-hikes months after it was prepared. I'm sure they have expiration dates, but I've never found one! For trail use, I store them in ZipLock bags. At home, you can roll them up and store them in old jars. Whatever is most convenient for you.