Guys, guys, guys! I just made a major mind-blowing discovery, and I have you to thank for it!
While looking through my dehydrator’s manual to make sure I was giving you guys accurate information, I discovered that my particular Nesco (which I’ve always loved for its five-tray volume) can actually expand to twelve trays!
TWELVE TRAYS, PEOPLE!
How I’d managed to miss this deeply soul-changing pearl is beyond me, but it prompted the following text convo with my hubby:
As you can see, my husband is a smart man.
Because, guys, few items in my kitchen truly deliver so much for so little as the dehydrator. It does not hold any specific counter hostage (can be set up on the dinner table or my night stand, if I want), makes large (and now even larger!) contributions to my family’s lunch planning with only the most minimal effort, can be used year-round, makes hardy – not to mention nutritious – products which travel well and can be packed with hot or cold lunches, and is so simple and safe to operate that all three of my kids know how to use it effectively.
AND ANYTHING WITH TWELVE TRAYS IN IT IS JUST BADASS!
So, in honor of the wonder that is a twelve-trayed dehydrator, we’re going to make a very basic fruit leather recipe for you to start getting comfortable. It’s almost as easy as the apple chips recipe, and will give you a little variety. No need for any added sugar or extra cooking, which is my kind of kiddie snack. And as you feel more comfortable, you can play around with and make practically any combination of fruit you can think of (Fruit punch, anyone? Mango-kiwi? Cherry-chia seed? Pumpkin spice or sweet potato-apple for the Fall?).
You can substitute with nearly any soft pulpy fruit, or even unsweetened apple sauce (can’t get much easier than that!) So, before we start combining too many watery and non-watery fruits, let’s get familiar with this one recipe.
Many fruit leather recipes out there require sweeteners or lemon juice, and many more want you to do a prep step which involves cooking your fruit pulp. The bastards.
One of the main reasons I pre-make my lunches is to control what I put in them, and while I’ve got no problem with a little sugar here and there, I certainly don’t want it in my kids’ fruit. Plus, sweeteners make your leather more brittle, and your cook time more difficult to calculate. And as far as the extra prep steps, you know my style: ain’t nobody got time for “extra” steps for anything.
Dehydrating times may vary depending on your environmental humidity and the juiciness of your fruit (texture is much more critical here than with the apple chips, so you want to get it right). The edges will usually be done first, but refuse the urge to try to take it off before the whole thing is done. Your leather is ready to peel off when it’s dry across its entire surface – no mushy or kinda-wet areas. I’ll show you what I mean. I started checking mine on this batch at 5 hours …
Not yet … see the dark spots vs the light? The light is where the water is. Throw that sucker back in!
Not yet …
Ah! At just over 7 hours, my leather was uniformly dry, and only mildly sticky to the touch, and I was easily able to peel it off of my gel trays in a big swath, and cut into skinny strips with clean kitchen scissors. If you discover as you’re pulling it off triumphantly that you have a secret “trouble spot” that looked dry but ends up coming apart as you’re trying to remove it, cut around that piece, remove the rest of your leather, and just throw the one section back into the dehydrator for an extra 20-60 minutes, depending on how moist it still is (but remember to always run the dehydrator with the minimum number of trays suggested by the manufacturer, even if all the other trays are empty).
Of course, this recipe doesn’t make twelve trays of fruit leather – that would be silly, since the new trays I ordered won’t even arrive until tomorrow. But five trays should be enough to last you a bit, and not so much that you feel you’ve crossed into “crazy-Emi-land” …
And if you have … well … welcome, my friends. It’s fun over here.
- 2 pints of strawberries
- 1/4 tsp melted coconut oil or regular vegetable oil
- Dazzit. Truly. That is all.
- Blend your strawberries in a food processor or a strong blender until fruit is completely disintegrated.
- Some people strain their fruit here. I make 200 lunches at a time, so to that I say "screw straining."
- Brush your trays with the tiniest amount of oil - 1/4 tsp is more than enough for five trays.
- Pour about 1 1/4 cups of pulp onto each gel tray. Give the trays the most gentle of jiggles, just so that the contents settle as evenly as possible across each tray. You want the thickness to be as uniform as you can get it, just about 1/4 of an inch thick, and jiggling does it better than eyeballing and mucking around with a spatula.
- Stack your trays onto your dehydrator, and set the temp at 130-135 for 6-8 hours (depending on the humidity in your environment and the juiciness of your fruit). The dehydrator itself is designed to run fruits/veggies at 135-140 degrees, but with fruit leather, I have better results keeping it on the lower side for more even drying.
- If you check your fruit and notice that one tray is dryer than another, you can switch out the position of those trays to bring the mushier one closer to the heating element (this IS something I do). You can also rotate the individual trays in circles throughout the process, to help with even drying (this is NOT something I do).
- When the leather is dry, but still warm (SERIOUSLY! Don't let it cool!) peel it off the trays and lay flat on parchment paper.
- I prefer to use my blender (it's a Vitamix, though doesn't have to be if you're just doing strawberries) because it's easier to pour the pulp from here than from my food processor - besides, if you're following my worksheet, you're going to be using your food processor for other recipes soon, and the less you have to rinse and wash between steps, the better.
- If using a dehydrator with square/rectangular trays, cut into strips and roll.
- If your dehydrator is like mine, and comes in round rings, you can cut leather into wedges or small strips, and then place onto longer strips of parchment paper to roll.
- Store in an airtight container for up to one month at room temperature, or plastic-wrap your rolls and throw'em in the freezer for up to a year!
- Tomato Sauce (Round 1)
- Never-Get-Your-Hands-Dirty Pizza Dough
- “Pizza” pockets (sausage, spinach and cheese, or cheese and veggie)
- Savory Lunch Empanadas (sweet potato and black beans, or ground beef)
- Spinach-Cream Cheese turnovers
- PLUS, SNACK: Strawberry Leather (Fruit “Roll Ups”)
- And BONUS SNACK: Portable Smoothie “Push-Ups”