Today we live in a world where we can obtain almost any fruit from any where in the world in any season. While there is a movement underway to eat what’s in season and what is grown locally even the most dedicated “eat in season”, fan occasionally gives in and sneaks a strawberry out of season.
Imagine what it was like in earlier times, without refrigeration or modern transportation. People were forced to grow what they ate. People like ants, were forced to “put food away”, for winter, or face starvation.
My grandparents were products of the waste not want not generation. They grew up poor in the South. Papaw tilled a large garden growing everything from apples to zucchini and everything in-between.
Memaw canned and dried every thing she could and come fall her cellar pantry shelves were filled to capacity with jars of fruits and vegetables, jams and jellies, pickles and relishes.
By the time I came along and was old enough to take notice, the garden had started to shrink. Instead of canning and drying food, Memaw started stocking the freezer. Since the two of them were the only ones living at home, there was no longer a need for bulging pantry shelves.
Memaw however did continue to can her famous strawberry jam. Papaw wouldn’t eat any other jam. “That stuff they sell in the store might be red but it sure ‘nough don’t taste like strawberry”, he would say.
The other thing Memaw made, up until the year she die was fruit leather. As far back as I can remember every time we went to visit the old girl, she would wonder down the cellar steps and bring up a jar of “leather”, as she called it. As kids we would line up to receive our fruit candy as we called it. When I went into the army, one of the first packages I received from home, contained leather from Memaw.
As an adult I had to smile and think of her the first time I saw a commercial for Fruit Roll Ups. Memaw would have slapped her knee and let out a holler seeing “her” fruit leather commercialized and being sold on television.
So now, in memory of Memaw I make fruit leather and when my grandkids come over, I go to the pantry and pull out my jar of leather, even though to them it is Fruit Roll Ups.
Here’s how to preserve your own summer fruit and turn it into beautiful, healthy fruit leather. My favorite is apple, but cherries, strawberries, blueberries , almost any fruit will do.
Combine 4 Cups of chopped fruit with ½ Cup water in a saucepan. Simmer on low 10 to 15 minutes. Mash the fruit and add enough sugar to sweeten to your taste and ¼ cup of lemon juice. Simmer on low, stirring until thick, about 10 to 15 minutes longer. Puree fruit through a food mill or a food processor.
Line baking sheets with clear plastic wrap. Spread a thin layer on pulp onto the plastic lined pan. Place in a 140 degree F. oven or a food dehydrator. Allow to dry until the pulp turns to leather. When touched it feels smooth not sticky. Allow to cool completely before placing on parchment paper and rolling up. Place roll onto clear plastic wrap and place in an airtight container. Store in a cool dark place, the refrigerator or the freezer.