Soil and Cellar

Growing and preserving foods in Seattle


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Strawberry Leather

Strawberry-apple leather, rolled up in wax paper. A great snack!

Strawberry-apple leather, rolled up in wax paper. A great snack!

When I was a kid, my dad built a solar food drier – he was a craftsman by trade for most of my childhood. It was a box made of plexi that had screens as sliding trays, and the sun would bake the box passively, drying anything inside. My parents made dried fruits, mostly apples. But my favorite favorite was the fruit leather. Mom mashed strawberries and put them on wax paper – that’s all. No store bought fruit rollup has ever come close to that flavor. So I’ve been wanting to try it myself.

Strawberries, after a few days in the fridge. Not amazing, but still worth using!

Strawberries, after a few days in the fridge. Not amazing, but still worth using!

The strawberries I had on hand weren’t actually that great – they were kind of old. I had tried to get strawberries at the farm near my work, to make jam, but sheesh. I got there 3 minutes after they opened and they had already sold out! So I bought strawberries at my grocery store. They were fine, but not as good as the ones I have had straight from farmers. Sad face.

Chop those strawberries!

Chop those strawberries!

After making jam, I had a couple pints of berries left over. So… fruit leather time!

“The Dehydrator Bible” – my resource for food drying – doesn’t have any recipes for plain strawberry leather. I took that to mean that maybe strawberries would be too runny on their own. They suggest either strawberry-apple or strawberry-banana. I went with strawberry-apple.

I realized that I needed to blend the strawberries with the apples, or the apples wouldn't blend well.

I realized that I needed to blend the strawberries with the apples, or the apples wouldn’t blend well.

After cutting out the bad parts of the strawberries, I had the perfect amount: 2 cups chopped. Then peel and chop up an apple – something firm like granny smith – and blend the two together. I also added about a quarter cup of sugar, for flavor, but don’t add much more than that. It won’t dry right and will be tacky or sticky. And if your fruit is tastier than mine, no sugar necessary.

All smooshed up. Here's where I taste tested, and realized it needed a little sugar. I added bakers sugar because it's finer and would mix in quicker.

All smooshed up. Here’s where I taste tested, and realized it needed a little sugar. I added bakers sugar because it’s finer and would mix in quicker.

Then just pour the mixture onto a leather tray (solid plastic, no holes) and put in the dehydrator at 135 for 5-8 hours. Mine was on the upper end of that range. If you don’t have a leather tray, you can try putting parchment on a jerky tray.

Pour and spread the fruit until it is about 1/8" thick. Try to make it even so it dries at the same rate. The 2 cups of mashed fruit took up 2 leather trays.

Pour and spread the fruit until it is about 1/8″ thick. Try to make it even so it dries at the same rate. The 2 cups of mashed fruit took up 2 leather trays.

Once it’s done, while still warm, pull off the tray and put right onto wax paper or saran wrap. It may not look pretty or square, but it’s all good. Then just roll it up in the paper and seal in a plastic bag. They say it’ll last for 6 months in an airtight container, but I can’t imagine how it could last 6 days. It’s far too delicious!

Dried and ready to peel!

Dried and ready to peel!

I have about 10 rollups. I’ve been taking them to work as snacks all week, and it is such a wonderful treat! I’m excited to try making other leathers throughout the summer.


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Strawberry Jam – An Old Friend

Small strawberries that pack a big flavor.

Small strawberries that pack a big flavor.

My mom made strawberry jam a lot when I was young, we loved it. It was actually her least favorite to make, because you have to remove all the stems. Every other berry she used could just be washed and put into the blender, and the slicing made for quite a bit more work.

Cutting the tops off each strawberry is a bit time consuming. Make sure you have some good music on before you start!

Cutting the tops off each strawberry is a bit time consuming. Make sure you have some good music on before you start!

So after she retired, she suggested stopping the strawberry jam. Well, we all said, “of course,” but D hesitated for just a moment. You see, not only is strawberry his favorite jam, it’s the only one he ever craved. So a couple of years in a row, she made small batches of strawberry jam just for him. If you ever doubted that food can equal love, I think that’s proof. And to me it was a sweet sign that she loved my husband, and that he was truly a part of the family.

I know I'm supposed to use a food mill or mash the strawberries, but I just use a blender.

I know I’m supposed to use a food mill or mash the strawberries, but I just use a blender.

After mom died, my first jam success was strawberry jam. A few years back I made the Sure-Jell low-sugar recipe. That’s a pretty great recipe! We took the jam on a long road trip and had delicious English muffins with pb&j every morning. The texture is unexpectedly soft – like apple butter – but it’s actually really nice and incredibly easy to spread.

As the jam cooks, it foams. I added butter in the second batch, which I've never done before, to reduce foaming. It still foamed, but definitely less.

As the jam cooks, it foams. I added butter in the second batch, which I’ve never done before, to reduce foaming. It still foamed, but definitely less. I don’t mind skimming the foam, because then I get to eat it after it cools.

I won’t bother with all the instructions here, because I use the exact recipe that Sure-Jell posts here: Sure-Jell Low Sugar Strawberry Jam. I got exactly 8 cups (which I put into 2 pint jars and 4 half-pint jars).

Pouring jam into jars, using a funnel. I do it on this little toaster tray to minimize mess.

Pouring jam into jars, using a funnel. I do it on this little toaster tray to minimize mess.

It may be getting late in the season for strawberries, but they’re still out there (at least up here in the north.) My first batch was in June, when I got day-old berries at a farmer’s market for half price. For this batch I got the berries Wednesday and let sit unrefrigerated for a couple hours, then refrigerated over night, to try and mimic the amazing so-ripe-but-not-quite-too-ripe flavor from last time. It worked, and I didn’t have to throw as many away from being actually overripe.

The berry in the middle is a little too seedy. I cut off the bottom as well as the top on berries like this, to reduce seediness and bitterness.

The berry in the middle is a little too seedy. I cut off the bottom as well as the top on berries like this, to reduce seediness and bitterness.

In the late season like this, you may need to cut away more seeds than normal. As the berries mature, the seeds get bitter. Any that are really bunched up I cut off. It made for a little more work, but the results are hard to argue with. The jam is delicious and friendly, it’s a long-time favorite for a reason. I can’t wait to eat it all winter!

Taste test! The jam on the left is the new batch, the right is from June. There are slight differences, due to type of berry and ripeness, but both delicious. And the winner is... me, obviously!

Taste test! The jam on the left is the new batch, the right is from June. There are slight differences, due to type of berry and ripeness, but both delicious. And the winner is… me, obviously!