This is a guest recipe from Alana Chernila, author of The Homemade Pantry.
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When I was a kid, my mother would hardly ever buy the same treats everyone else had in their school lunches. At lunch time, we’d all put our brown bags on the table, and although the plain bags looked the same from the outside, my friends would unveil the contents of their bags like little magicians each pulling out treats more wondrous than the one before. Then, of course, the trading would begin.
“I’ll give you a Little Debbie for that Twinkie!”
“I’ve got Cracker Jacks! Anyone have Oreos?”
“I have a carob covered rice cake. Anyone? Anyone?”
That would have been me, trying my best to unload my unsweetened natural “treats” off to anyone who would take them. But it never worked. And of course when fruit roll-ups became the hot item, my mother was more than happy to buy me the “fruit leathers” from the health food store. They were thick little squares of leathery dehydrated fruit product. They were not red, shiny, or sweet. And most importantly, they did not actually roll up.
“It’s not the same!” I’d moan.
“It sure isn’t,” she’d say. You take a look at that fruit-roll up box next time, and if you can pronounce even half of the ingredients, I’ll buy the box for you. Fruit leathers might not be red and shiny, and they might not even roll up, but they are made of fruit.”
Smart lady, my mother. And of course when it was time to feed my own children, I stuck to the same logic my mother taught me. Because even though my girls will occasionally ask if they can please please please get this sweet-and-shiny-treat-in-a-wrapper-with-a-princess-on-it-and-a-prize-inside!, I just can’t throw that box in the cart. We eat plenty of treats in our family, but I still hold to the rule that the ingredients should be pronounceable, and fruit roll-ups certainly don’t make the cut.
My girls aren’t too thrilled for fruit leathers either, but luckily, I’ve found a way to make fruit roll-ups at home that are sweet, shiny, and totally rollable. I love to throw together whatever fruits I have on hand–even frozen berries work well, and I’ll often mix multiple fruits or throw in a bit of spice. All that’s required is a fruity puree and either a dehydrator or a low oven to transform it into a sticky delicious sheet of fruity goodness worthy of even the most exciting lunchbox.
In my book, The Homemade Pantry, I have a fruit-roll up recipe that involves giving your fruit a few minutes on the stove to soften and cook before dehydrating it. That works well, but lately I’ve also gotten into the habit of leaving fruits raw and just throwing them in the blender, which I do with the two recipes that follow. If you’re working with a fruit with seeds (like blackberries) you can pass the puree through a sieve for a smoother fruit roll-up. You can make fruit roll-ups in a dehydrator or a very low oven, but the dehydrating time will vary depending on what you use.
A few notes on dehydrators: I have this Nesco unit, and it works well. I find that most of us who have the cheap, round, white models seem to covet the aptly named Excalibur – square, majestic, faster, and without the challenges that come up around doing anything on a tray the shape of a tire. If you really want to go for it, there are also a few pricey stainless steel models out there that do all the good work without the slowly heated plastic leaching chemicals into your food. Someday, someday. But until then, the cheap, round, white model does the job.