Just for fun, listen to this Nat King Cole song while you read the rest of this article.
The taste of fresh peaches in late summer and early fall reminds me that “fall” can mean the excitement of back-to-school season and the crisp smell of falling leaves, before the tyranny of Pumpkin Spice Latte sets in. You’ll soon be thinking about things to do with peaches and some of your other favorite fruits.
Many different fruits lend themselves well to homemade fruit leather, but peaches are my favorite. Peaches can be canned, bottled, frozen, and made into endless varieties of pies and crisps. For this reason, I love preserving peaches. I do not love the long process that is involved with peeling them – the blanching, the ice water, the piles of skins on the counter. So anything that means I don’t have to do that is well worth my time. Besides, research indicates that the skin of the fruit is the part that has the most nutrients, so it’s in your best interest to leave the skin on.
This year, I decided to try dehydrating my peaches because you do not have to peel them! The dehydration process educes the skins to almost nothing. Making fruit leather similarly renders peeling unnecessary because you can puree the fruit, skin and all. If you don’t have to bother, why should you?
I had always been hesitant to buy a dehydrator prior to this experiment. When I was thinking about buying one a few years ago, a friend said to me, “I dunno, I can’t seem to justify a reason to buy a glorified hair dryer that sits on my counter and whines at me all day.” When you put it that way, dehydrator doesn’t sound at all like something you’d want in your house. After tasting the results when I used my mother’s to make copious amounts of fruit leather and dehydrated peach slices, I changed my tune.
There are several kinds of dehydrators on the open market these days. One could write a series of blog posts just discussing the pros and cons of each. Briefly, there are bottom-up dehydrators and top-down ones — they blow the warm air either from a fan at the top of the unit or the bottom. There are also dehydrators that blow the warm air from the side. Food dehydration experts agree the Excalibur is the best style and brand on the market. Alton Brown also rigged up a DIY model using furnace filters and a box fan, though I would not recommend it for sticky items like fruit.
Each kind of dehydrator has its pros and cons. Vertically stacking dehydrators can be customized, with extra drying racks added or taken away. Horizontal dehydrators are more expensive, but dry food faster, although they hold a set number of trays and you can’t add or subtract racks. On the other hand, if you want to use your dehydrator to make yogurt, you can empty a model like this one of its trays and have an open area for jars.
If you are hoping to make fruit leather, you will need specialty fruit roll sheets, lest your fruit puree fall through the slats in the drying rack into a gooey mess. If you have an Excalibur-style dehydrator, you’ll need sheets like these.
When preparing peaches or other fruit for dehydrating, slice them thinly. They will have to be dried thoroughly in order to keep from molding during storage, and it is easier for this to happen if they are cut into small pieces. To keep your fruit from browning, place your peach slices in a bath of water with about a tablespoon of lemon juice mixed in. The acid in the lemon juice will keep the peaches looking peach-colored. They don’t have to sit in there for any set period of time. A minute or two is more than enough.
Drain the peaches, pay dry, and lay them on the dehydrator trays. Dry them at 135-140 degrees for at least 8 hours, possibly longer. In my own experience, peach slices end up more leathery and harden a bit when cooled. You just want to make sure there is no moisture left in the slices.
My son remarked that they looked like leaves, and I think I agree – they have that red-and-gold color and veined patterning that distinctly reminds one of autumn leaves. Perfect for sticking in a brown-bag lunch.
Making Fruit Leather
So on to making fruit roll-ups, a popular snack for school lunch boxes. When I was a kid, roll-ups were very heavily marketed with their neon colors and interestingly-shaped cut outs. Technically, the fruit roll-ups you buy at the grocery store are made of fruit (pear slurry, mostly), but they are so chock-full of corn syrup and artificial colors and flavors that you would have to split some very fine hairs when calling it a “healthy snack.”
Let’s compare this to the home-made variety, sometimes known as “fruit leather.” When made correctly, fruit leather contains: fruit. If you feel like it, or if your fruit is especially tart, you may choose to add a small amount of sugar.
Here’s how you make it:
Take some fruit. Remove any seeds. Peel if desired. It is not necessary to peel peaches in this instance.
Put the fruit in a blender on the “puree” setting. Blend until your solid fruit is now a liquid.
You have two options at this point:
- Choose to simmer your pureed fruit over the stove. Your puree is ready to be put into the dehydrator when a spoonful of your fruit dropped onto a plate no longer bleeds any watery liquid.
2. Choose to skip that step entirely. The benefit here is that you will be able to fit more solids onto your dehydrator tray and thus get a thicker piece of fruit leather. The negative is, of course, that this takes more time.
Whatever you decide, spread your mixture onto your fruit roll trays. In a pinch you can use parchment paper, I use this brand, but it does tend to get wrinkly when absorbing the liquid from your fruit. so for best results you really do need to invest in the fruit roll trays. Once the fruit leather mixture is in the dehydrator, expect it to take somewhere in the vicinity of 8 hours before it’s ready. Take if off your fruit roll trays when it is still pliable, but no longer gooey.
If you’re worried about whether anyone in your family would want to eat your latest creation, don’t. My kids kept gobbling it up before I could whip out my camera to take a picture, so I wasn’t able to take any photographic evidence until I’d made my third batch. I’m pretty sure that when they ate the second batch it was still warm from the dehydrator. I kind of had to make three batches – it would have been really lame to show you guys a picture of an empty plastic bag.
It’s easy to experiment with new flavors, as well. In addition to plain peach fruit leather, I made a batch of peach-mango and peach-strawberry. I didn’t measure proportions, I just blended it all together. Of the three flavors, my kids liked the peach-mango the best. Note: the fruit leather in the picture below lasted approximately three and a half minutes after I took this picture. So if you are making it with the intention to put it in your child’s lunchbox, you will need to store it in a safe.
Can I Dehydrate Food If I Don’t Have A Dehydrator?
Heck yes, you can. If it’s good enough for Ma Ingalls it’s good enough for all of us. A simple cookie sheet is all you need, although I also recommend using a silpat mat in addition, particularly if you are going to be making fruit leather. I recommend putting a thin layer of cheesecloth over your food if you’re going to dry it in the sun, for the purposes of protecting it from being snacked on by critters and to keep it from getting The Great Outdoors all over it. Be advised that sun-drying takes several days.
You can also use a conventional oven to dehydrate food, if you put it on a low setting (170 degrees or thereabouts).
For more information on dehydrating food, check out this list of other Survival Mom articles found here.
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