Monday, September 3, 2012

Fruit leather and burnt fingertips

Ten days after braving the wretchedness of Mother Nature in pursuit of orchard-fresh peaches, I have made one cobbler, one batch of granita, and a mess of several t-shirts, thanks to the juiciness of the just-picked fruit. The five peaches that I now have left over are withering away on the counter, not quite to the point where they need to be tossed, but a little too ugly to feel great about serving them to my loved ones.

These five refugees languishing in the fruit bowl are also covered in an almost obscene amount of actual peach fuzz (local peaches are startlingly hairy just off the tree), which means they’re just a few days away from looking like your shriveled old auntie who has long since given up on grooming her facial hair.
So, what to do with these specimens? Why, make fruit leather of course!
I loved Fruit Roll Ups when growing up, but like Z.Cavariccis and name-brand cereal, it was a luxury in which I didn’t often indulge. Now that I’ve stumbled upon a recipe for the homemade version, though, my mind starts racing with excitement. I imagine that one day I’ll pack this delicious, homemade treat into Chloe’s lunchbox, allowing her to savor the yumminess of Fruit Roll Ups without all the additives and packaging.
But then there’s the flip side to the DIY Fruit Roll Up: lunchroom embarrassment. And somehow, my insistence that the homemade version of something cool and expensive is just like—no better!—than the fancy, store-bought product seems to conjure up sad images of me sewing Chloe’s prom dress in my Dust Bowl-era shack on the prairie.
I make the fruit leather anyway, and it’s a lot more difficult than the instructions would indicate. And seeing the finished product makes me realize that when it comes to passing off my fruit leather for the store-bought variety, I’m closer to the shack version of events that I had originally thought.
As I already noted, the instructions are deceptively simple: Chop and puree fruit; boil it down with sugar and a little lemon juice; spread it on a sheet pan; and bake in a low oven for several hours. Then just slice, peel, and indulge. All you really need are three ingredients, an empty afternoon, and remedial reading skills.
What the recipe fails to note, however, are the many “ifs” involved in this procedure. Like if you don’t spread your fruit puree thinly enough you’ll wind up with fruit goop that never quite forms into leather. Or that if you don’t use a silicone baking sheet your fruit leather will never, ever peel off the pan. Or that although the recipe says the leather is done when it feels barely tacky, you will burn each and every fingertip and hiss "fuuuuuuck" into the oven again and again if you touch it when it’s not yet finished leathering.
In the end, because of uneven spreading and a bit of tinfoil under one spot where my silicone mat had ripped, I wound up with just four strips of ragged and wildly unattractive (yet tasty) fruit leather. Still, I rolled them up in pieces of waxed paper, put them into a bag, and told Brian that he could take them to work with his lunch. He took a look, laughed a little, and thanked me a little too wholeheartedly. Dust Bowl. Shack. Homemade prom dress. At least it tastes good.


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