FruIt to go: a lunch box classic you can make at home

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters
RUTLAND BITES

I don’t know about today, but in the mid-1990s, Fruit Roll-ups were in all the cool kids’ lunch boxes. Needless to say, they were not in mine. Instead, I was more likely to have an ordinary piece of fruit. No fancy packaging with riddles or jokes, just fruit in its own skin and peels. In hindsight, I can forgive them. Apparently, my parents just didn’t understand that my elementary school popularity was at stake.

Fruit Roll-ups, in theory, are strips of dried fruit leather that are cut and rolled up into pieces and conveniently packaged to take on the go. It’s often referred to as leather because of its similar consistency and texture. It’s a seemingly healthy snack. Though in reality, Fruit Roll-ups are mostly corn syrup and food dye. If I had kids, I wouldn’t give them these either. But I’ve heard that it’s much cooler to be unpopular these days anyway.

I hadn’t thought much about Fruit Roll-ups lately until I learned of my girlfriend’s obsession with them and similar products, such as another popular lunch-box snack I was never allowed: Gushers. Fortunately, she doesn’t bring any of this junk into the house. Or if she does, she’s hiding it rather well.

When we do buy these kinds of foods, we buy the kind that contain mostly all fruit and most closely resemble food. We like the brand Stretch Island Fruit Co. But for at least a couple of years now, I’ve said that we’d try making our own fruit strips. Like most foods you make yourself, they’re more economical, fresher and taste better. I think the process may come across as being a hassle, but we didn’t find that to be the case.

You don’t need a food dehydrator to make your own fruit strips. And that’s great, because we sold ours in a yard sale. It just took up too much room, and the quality of the food wasn’t impressive. Instead, you can simply use the oven. Just turn the heat way down to about 170 degrees. While I’ve come across recipes that go lower in temperature and can take up to 10 hours, at 170 our fruit leather was done after about three or three and a half hours. Of course, that may vary depending on the kind of fruit you use.

It makes sense to make fruit strips now, during the summer, when most fruits are at their peak and are available at the best prices. You can use just about any kind of fruit or combination of fruits, as well as flavorings such as vanilla and spices such as cinnamon or ginger. I imagine that any sweetener would work as well, but if using granulated sugar, you may want to heat the purée to help it dissolve. Or you could leave the sweetener out altogether.

For our first attempt, we kept it simple by using blueberries and strawberries we picked this summer. We had already frozen the berries, so we just defrosted them before puréeing. The added lime and lemon juice help preserve things, not that we need to worry about keeping these for long.

In taste and texture, these fruit strips were excellent. They did turn out a little on the thin side, and next time (perhaps with the pluots sitting in the fridge), I think I’ll spread the purée out just a little less thinly. Our blueberry leather took a little longer than the strawberry for the center to finally firm up, so just keep in mind that the cook time may vary depending upon the amount of liquid in your fruit.

If you send these off in your kid’s lunch box, I can’t guarantee they’ll win any popularity awards. But trust me, they’ll thank you later.

Homemade fruit strips

Makes about 16 strips

  • 2 cups strawberries, halved
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Line two standard-sized baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

In a blender or food processor, purée the strawberries with the lime juice and one tablespoon of honey. Pour onto one of the baking sheets and spread to about an 1/8 inch thick. Rinse the blender and repeat the process with the blueberries, lemon juice and remaining honey.

Place the two baking sheets in the oven and let dry for three to four hours. Start checking at the three-hour mark. You want the fruit to be dry, but soft to the touch.

When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Carefully peel the fruit leather off the baking mat and place each onto a clean piece of parchment paper. Use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut into strips. Roll and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a month.

Steve Peters

Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland.

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