Thursday, April 2, 2009

Crunchy Cooking: Homemade Fruit Roll-Ups

So, as many of my mommy friends and relatives may know, I made all of the kids' baby food. It was such a rewarding (and money-saving) experience and something I really enjoyed doing. I also attribute my son's love of a wide variety of foods to his baby food - from the very beginning, he was tasting REAL food. I used the book "Super Baby Food" by Ruth Yaron as my primary resource. My sister-in-law used both this book and the website Wholesome Baby Food. There does appear to be a little bit of conflict between the WBF website and the SBF book about what ages to introduce certain foods; I always say when in doubt wait, but consult with your child's pediatrician if you're unsure.

Anyway, "Super Baby Food" is so much more than baby food! There are tons and tons of toddler and family recipes, as well as great arts and crafts ideas. My big man and I like to make yummy homemade granola bars; M helps stir.

But our big favorite snack right now is fruit leather, or homemade fruit rollups. M has always loved fruit - better than cookies, even - and I was looking for a new and fun snack for him, as well as a different way for him to eat his fruit. It is such an EASY snack to make, and he enjoys watching and helping. I love knowing that he's eating real fruit, without preservatives, dyes, artificial flavoring, or high fructose corn syrup. And M...well, he just loves eating it! So here you go, instructions and photos for how to make this delicious Super Toddler snack for your own little crumb crushers at home.

You can start with fresh, frozen, or canned fruit. If you start with fresh: wash, peel (if necessary), cook (if necessary or desired), and process in blender until completely smooth and free of lumps. If you start with canned: wash thoroughly all cans or jars before opening (you never know what dust or yuckiness, including pesticides from the grocery store, could be lurking on the lip of the can), strain liquid out, reserving if you wish, place fruit in blender and process until smooth.

Here's why I use frozen: it's cheapest by volume, always in season, already washed, peeled, and cooked (when necessary). Simply let the fruit thaw completely, either by sitting out at room temperature, or by thawing in 30-second increments in the microwave. Using a slotted spoon, strain the fruit into your blender, reserving the juice (if desired; juice can be used to drink, mix with other juices, or make a homemade fruit syrup or jelly).

Look how much juice I have! I'll combine this 1 cup of blueberry juice with 2 cups of sugar on the stovetop, boiling very low until all sugar is dissolved and juice has thickened into a syrup. Yummy on pancakes - homemade blueberry syrup!

Anyway, if you want to sweeten your fruit leather, now is the time to do it. I heated up a few tablespoons of juice in the microwave and dissolved 2 teaspoons of sugar in it. I sweeten fruits that have been frozen, because the ascorbic acid (citric acid, which is basically just lemon juice) used to preserve color in frozen fruits makes them a bit tart. After you have dissolved the sugar, add this into your puree and process again to incorporate thoroughly.

Pour puree into your prepared pans. Use large pans, like 10x15 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans, and either grease with shortening or cover with plastic wrap. I like to use plastic wrap, because you can flip the leather to dry on the other side, shortening your drying time. I used the mondo-huge bag of blueberries from Kroger and it made 2 pans' worth of puree/leather!

Place into preheated 275*F oven for 30-35 minutes (I promise it won't melt the plastic wrap, I freaked out over it the first time too). (**EDIT: Several people have told me that their plastic wrap/Saran wrap did actually melt in the oven. DO NOT use cheap/store brand lightweight plastic wrap if you choose to use some; I use a heavy-weight professional grade plastic wrap from Sam's, so that's all I have in the house. As a plus, it's much easier to work with. You could probably also use parchment paper if you don't like plastic wrap. But don't forget, you don't have to use anything if you don't want to.) Then turn the oven off and let sit for 8-10 hours, or overnight. If you cook every night like I do, it's best to get this ready so you can pop it in the oven as soon as supper comes out. (There are other ways to dry your fruit leather, but they all involve leaving the oven door slightly open while on. Between the little ones around, and the fumes from our gas oven, this is just not an option for us. If anyone would like those directions, post a comment/question and I'll post them for you.)

Now, how long it takes to dry out completely will depend a lot on the humidity. Where we are, I put the leather in the oven on Friday night, and it wasn't ready to be cut until Monday afternoon. But because I had lined my pans with plastic wrap, I was able to take it out on Sunday night and flip it over onto waxed paper, and put it back in the oven. (When I needed the oven during the drying process, I just took the leather out and then replaced it once the oven was empty and turned off again.)

Finally! Ready to cut! Here are all my tools: a cutting board, cookie/pastry/biscuit cutters in cute shapes, a knife to score the fruit leather around the cutters when necessary, a rolling pin to press down on the top of the cutters (to save my fingers!), an airtight container to store the leather in, wax paper to layer between the cut pieces, scissors to cut the wax paper.
** I just got done making another batch of fruit leather, and found the EASIEST way to cut it - a pizza cutter! So fast and easy, and a lot easier on my hands. I just cut it all into squares this time, since M is really into squares right now anyway.

Cut into cute shapes - never miss an educational opportunity! :o) M and I talk about the shapes he's eating. Even if you don't have cutters, you can use a sharp paring knife to free-hand basic shapes. Be conservative and waste as little as possible (although I do eat all the scraps as I'm cutting the shapes, mmmmm). Be even more conservative, and reuse the wax paper the leather rested on to cut and layer between your fruit leather pieces! Now, if you have an older child who wants his fruit leather that he carries in his lunch to school to look like "real" fruit rollups, just cut it into larger squares or rectangles and roll up, either with plastic wrap/wax paper, or just roll it up by itself.


Hope y'all enjoy getting crafty in your kitchens!


Jessica said...

So...DON'T do strawberries on wax paper to start off with. The wax paper (high quality stuff too, I was shocked!) leaked through to the pan, the strawberries just kinda cracked and burned around the edges and the center never dried, lol! I think I'll be investing in some good seran wrap and a different fruit, haha!