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Posted by Maxine Cleminson - - 0 comments

I've been stressing about what to hand out for Halloween treats this year.  Last year we ended up with a mountain of (mostly) junk candy.  Full of high fructose corn syrup, colors, additives and (again) junk.  Of course the kids were delighted, but Him Indoors and I were quietly horrified.  On a daily basis, we try to feed our kids a healthy, balanced diet.  We (mostly) home cook meals.  Our boys get their 5-a-day of fruit and vegetables, plus wholegrains, and low fat protein.  We buy organic where possible and make wise choices where not.  However, as the very sensible Roman philosopher Petronius commented: "Moderation in everything, including moderation".  Joking aside, we are not Food Nazis.  I do allow my kids to eat candy.  And cake. And chips.  Just not everyday.  And not if I don't recognise the ingredients on the back of the package!

What's wrong with good old-fashioned cane sugar or honey (in moderation, of course)?!  It's a more expensive ingredient, that's what!  Corn is mass produced cheaply and a bit of chemistry jiggery-pokery can make corn syrup even sweeter (by converting the glucose into fructose with some enzymes, creating High Fructose Corn Syrup or HFCS).  Therefore, the manufacturers can use less to simulate the sweetness of natural fruit sugars (making it cheaper).  However, less isn't better in this case... HFCS has been linked to increased obesity, cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and liver disease.  A 2005 study, even suggested that traces of mercury leach into HFCS during its production.  And yet, it's in just about everything here in the US.  And not just the obvious culprits like fizzy sodas and sweet candies.  Nope.  It's in bread, breakfast cereals, yoghurts, condiments, pasta sauces, deli meats... and more!

So, since moving to the US I have become an avid reader of food labels and if I don't recognize it, or can't pronounce it because it's di-hex-propyl-ethyl-gobledygook nonsense... I don't buy it.  That's why Halloween posed such a problem.  When well-meaning, lovely folk give your kids candy... you are going to look like a complete arse if you take it away!  Last year, I was gearing up to have a battle on my hands when the fabulous local dentists came to the rescue as part of Operation Gratitude.  This popular scheme sends the American troops serving overseas, parcels with items from home.  Around Halloween, the local dentists team up with Operation Gratitude to Buy Back the kids' candy (in exchange for toothbrushes, no-uniform passes for schools, and other less toxic treats) which gets sent to the troops.  I guess they figure that the troops in Afghanistan are better able to make wise food choices to prevent tooth decay and obesity, than our local children!  Whatever... I digress!  My kids' candy was therefore mostly donated to a good cause.  The Big One tried very hard to seem keen about this, but in reality he was gutted.  So this year, I've sworn to do my own Candy Exchange, in addition to the Dentists' Buy Back scheme. For every bag of candy the kids donate, I will reimburse them with some sweet treats they can enjoy (just not all in one go!).

Therefore, I decided to try out something new.  Fruit leather.  My kids love this stuff.  Fruit roll-ups or fruit ropes.  And if you look carefully, you can get some really great, healthy brands.  We particularly enjoy the Clif Organic fruit ropes.  But I figured, how hard can it be to make your own?  Not very is the answer.

You will need:
  • Fruit - about 4-6 cups.  Washed, peeled, stoned etc...  You could even use defrosted frozen fruit (but you might need to drain off excess juices).
  • Honey, sugar or syrup (optional and to your taste)
  • Spices to complement your fruit (again optional).
  • A squeeze of lemon (this prevents the fruit leather from discoloring).
  • A large cookie sheet.
  • A silicon baking mat or plastic wrap/clingfilm.
  • A fair bit of patience.
If you are planning to make roll-ups, you will need some baking parchment and some string.  And unless you are planning to eat it all in one go, you will need an airtight container to store it in.

I made two varieties... I figured that seeing as my oven was going to be on for a long time, I ought to maximize the benefits!  The first batch was a combination of ripe red pears, honey and a pinch of cinnamon.  I didn't cook the pear into a puree as it was already very ripe.  I simply peeled and chopped it into chunks and then blended it in my food processor.  Cooking removes vitamins and nutrients so I figured that the less processing the better.  I added about a tablespoon of honey and a pinch of cinnamon.  Remember that flavors will intensify with drying so don't over-sweeten.  The consistency you are aiming for is runny enough to pour, but thick enough that you will need to spread with a spatula, and it will 'sit' where it has been spread (like apple sauce... which, incidentally, you could use to make fruit leather!).

Pour the puree onto the lined cookie sheet.  Silicon baking mats are fabulous for this.  If you don't have one, you can use plastic wrap/clingfilm (as long as it's the heat proof microwave-safe stuff).  Just remember that it will shrink slightly, so leave an excess over the edges of the cookie sheet.  Spread the puree into a rough rectangle leaving a gap at the edge.  It needs to be about 1/4 of an inch (5mm) thick so don't spread too thinly.

The second batch I made was a combination of rasberries and blackberries.  I just added some honey to these fruits.  Again, I didn't cook them first, just pureed them in the food processor.  However, I did sieve the puree to remove the pips!

Once the purees are spread on the cookie sheets. Pop them in the oven at about 150' F (65'C) or the lowest temperature setting your oven has.  Then leave them for 6-8 hours (or overnight).  They are done when they are no longer wet, but sticky and leathery.  Captain Obvious strikes again.

I found a pizza wheel cutter was perfect for cutting the fruit leather when done.  The sheet of fruit leather should peel very easily from the silicon baking mat or plastic wrap.  Place it onto a knife safe surface (I used a glass surface protector) to cut it.  The edges will probably be a little over done and too crispy so you can trim these off.  Then cut the fruit leather into pieces.  If you want to make fruit roll ups, cut it into inch wide strips and roll up with a strip of baking parchment.  Secure with string or gift ribbon.

You can then store the fruit leather in a cool dark place in an airtight container for about a month (or in the fridge/freezer for longer).

Some tips I figured out:
  • Make sure you don't spread it too thin or you'll end up with fruit crisps instead of leather!  The pear & cinnamon fruit leather was spread a little too thinly and came out quite tough and crispy as a consequence.  It still tastes great, though! 
  • Also, try rotating the baking trays thoughout the cooking period to prevent one side getting crispier than the other.
  • I erred on the side of caution with sweetening the fruit, knowing that flavours will intensify with drying. This worked perfectly with the pears.  However, with tart fruits like the blackberries you will need to bear in mind that the tartness also increases with drying.  The Raspberry/Blackberry fruit leather I made had a perfect chewy texture, although was a little sharp tasting for my liking!  The Big One like it though!
  • Check out this link for some ideas of fruit combinations/recipes!

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Mama Max

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