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Food for Thought
Roll 'Em Up
In the flurry of processing summer's bounty, some fruits and veggies get set aside because they aren't perfect, or are possibly a little overripe. A wonderful way to keep these fruits and vegetables from going to waste is to make fruit or vegetable leatheralso known as a roll-up.
Fruit and vegetable leather can be made in your oven, but a dehydrator will produce more consistent results. If you have been toying with the idea of buying a dehydrator but are still on the fence, I would really recommend you buy the best one you can afford; they have so many uses! I have a round Nesco dehydrator, and have been very happy with it, but now I'm lusting after a bigger, more efficient square version, like an Excalibur.
Dehydrated fruit and vegetable roll-ups are light and portable (perfect for hiking or camping) and more nutritionally dense because the water has been removed. They are low calorie, usually fat-free, and fun to eat!
Don't confuse fruit leather with the boxes of fruit snacks or fruit roll-ups on the grocery shelves. Most of those have a long list of scary ingredients, and almost no fruit. One major company faced two lawsuits over their product because they marketed the snacks in a manner that suggested they were healthy. Their strawberry flavor snack made with "real fruit" was made with pear concentrate and didn't contain any strawberries at all.
With very little work, we can do better than that!
Fruit and vegetable leather is a puree that has been spread onto a flat surface and dried thoroughly with steady heat. While many people puree fresh fruit for leather, the Colorado State University Extension office recommends cooking it to a temperature of 160 degrees before dehydrating.
In the past, recommendations for preparing fruit leather from both fresh and cooked fruit have been given. However, because of increasing concerns with bacteria such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E.coli O157:H7) being able to survive the drying process if present, it's best to heat the fruit to 160°F before drying. Preheating also stops the maturing action of enzymes in the fruit, helps preserve the fruit's natural color and speeds the drying process. (Leathers and Jerkies, Colorado State University Extension)
The three roll-up recipes I made for this column are all cooked first, so as long as the leather is dehydrated thoroughly, it is perfectly safe. I've played with fruit leather before and was always partial to berry roll-ups, but this year I discovered a new love: savory, spicy, rich tomato leather!
As strange as that may sound, the leather is surprisingly satisfying. When I get a craving for something, but I'm not really sure what I want, a small piece of a tomato roll-up will usually do the trick. It melts slowly on my tongue, and the complex flavors are delicious.
We had a wonderful tomato harvest in the Northwest this year, and my freezer is filled with sauce, so the remaining tomatoes are being made into Tomato Roll-Ups. I make them using my Spicy Tomato Sauce, and if you have the time and inclination I really recommend this. The added vegetables and spices cook down with the tomatoes, and the resulting paste is just perfect for these treats. However, if time is an issue, a good substitute can be made by adding spices to canned tomato paste and puree.
Tomato roll-ups aren't just for snacking. Try chopping a piece up finely and sprinkling it on a salad, or add a little to scrambled eggs. Thin strips or cut-outs could also add a decorative touch to deviled eggs or casseroles. The leather can also be reconstituted into sauce by adding a small amount of water and heating slowly. For a lovely, convenient meal, put a piece of tomato roll-up (approximately the size of your hand) in a mug and add 1 cup of boiling water. Stir until it is dissolved and savor the flavor!
Fall and apples naturally go together. I got really lucky this year at one of our local orchards and scored a huge box of Honeycrisp apples, which as their name suggests are very sweet and crispy. Here's a recipe for Apple Cinnamon Roll-Ups, a sure kid (and big kid) pleaser! Little pieces can also be added to muffins, cookies, scones, or breads.
My third idea was to make Pumpkin Roll-Ups. I imagined something that tasted like pumpkin pie, but BLEH! They were awful. The spices were concentrated by dehydration, so the ginger and clove I used were overpowering. I also may have let them dry too long, because the texture was unappealing, too.
Since applesauce is added to many fruit purees to add sweetness and a smoother texture, for my next batch I tried adding some to my pumpkin, and it made all the difference in the world. You can use the recipe for Apple Cinnamon Roll-Ups to make apple puree, or simply add jarred applesauce or apple butter.
And because I promised you a pumpkin recipe last month (and I don't think roll-ups really count), I made a Marbled Pumpkin Rye Bread that's perfect for fall. It's a little more complicated than most bread recipes, but it makes 3 loaves! That's worth the time, right? You'll have one loaf to eat, one to freeze, and one to give away.
I'm doing the happy dance because fall is here. I'm in my element with apples, pears, pecans, maple, and pumpkin! The crisp air and falling leaves inspire me and make me thankful . . . which will put me in the right mood for dreaming up next month's Thanksgiving column. Enjoy the season!
Contact Lorinda at email@example.com
Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.
Food for Thought copyright 2015.