Absolutely the most difficult part of sending the children to school for me has been... school lunches. Packing those lunchboxes is fraught with pitfalls, not the least being What Other Children Eat. If you believed my girls, every other child in primary school has a lunchbox filled with chips and lollies, or if not that, at least every other item comes in a darling little plastic packet. Which may or may not be true.
Our biggest arguments are over muesli bars (I sometimes give in on that one) and those horrible fake-flavoured 'fruit' rollups, which come rolled up in a sheet of plastic, in individual plastic packets, and also taste like plastic, and have no recognizable ingredients in them. So I flatly refuse to buy them, because, as we all know, I am a mean mummy. I do try, however, to make acceptable, non-plastic-encased substitutes. So far I have failed miserably on the muesli bar front, so when I decided to give fruit roll ups a go, it wasn't with any great sense of optimism.
The other reason I wanted to try fruit leather was our prolific cherry plum tree. There is only so much jam you can make, of plums you can force on friends, and Waste Not is this year's motto, so I went to work.
There are much worse things one could be doing on a summer's morning than picking plums. There were mini parrots squabbling in the branches, causing the plums to practically rain into the pan.
Due to the plums being quite small and almost all stone, I boiled them up stones and all, no water, just mashing the plums up a bit with the potato masher. According to information from the aptly named Sally Wise on local radio recently, you musn't add sugar to fruit leathers as it makes them go all brittle and cracked. But two teaspoons honey are apparently OK, so I added that. I simmered it for half an hour or so till the liquid reduced quite a bit, and the skins were completely translucent.
Then I drained the mixture through a colander into a clean pan until only the pulpy mixture was left.
That I spread out on my largest baking tray to pick out the stones with a pait of tongs. It was very tedious, and I was thinking how nice it would be to make this with fruit with no pips.
Then tipped the pulpy mixture into the drained liquid and blended it up with the stick blender. At this point it looked just like pumpkin soup, and tasted very yummy. It would have made perfect baby food.
This was the point I was a bit dubious about. I lined the old Sunbeam dehydrator with baking paper and was hoping not to overheat the motor and blow it up. The Man, who knows everything about everything electrical said he thought it would be fine, so I ploughed on, cutting dinky circles out of baking paper..
..and spreading out the puree. It was the texture of thick pumpkin soup, so stayed nicely where I put it.
After about five hours the first layer was done. It peeled easily off the paper when it was 'cooked' all over. The layers that weren't quite done had patches that stuck to the paper. I find that these dehydrators dry a bit unevenly, so you either have to swap the trays around frequently, or take the food out one tray at a time, which is what I do. Apparently you can dry fruit in the oven as well, on the lowest setting, overnight, but I haven't tried it. Has anyone else had a go at that? I took the last tray out of the dryer ten hours or so after I started (I just left it off overnight as I didn't want them to dry to a crisp, and started again in the morning). The Man worked out that I had used about 70c worth of electricity, which was the cost of the whole project. Well, that and some baking paper..
And here is the end product, ready rolled for the lunch boxes. And the miracle is - the children like them! They take them to school. Their friends like them, so they take extra. The Man eats them when I'm not looking. They are divinely delicious, and a tiny bit sour, like the plums. Unfortunately, they are so fab, that a week later, there aren't any left. Still, now I've begun I can forsee a year of fruit leathers, to go with the year of jam. Apples and pears are next, and they don't have stones.
Edited to add: I forgot to mention - spray the baking paper with cooking spray, so the leather peels off nicely. This was also a suggestion from Sally Wise, local preserving queen. I might try one without the spray next time to see what happens, but I uncharacteristically followed advice this time, and it certainly worked!