A friend of mine requested that I “do something with rhubarb” for one of my next blog posts. I asked her what I thought was a reasonable question, “What, do you mean like a cobbler or a crisp? Something like that?” By the look on her face, I knew I was way off. She wanted something different, something unusual and unexpected. Lucky for her, I didn’t want to make a cobbler or a crisp anyway. I wanted something different, as well. I also didn’t want to go to the store. I wanted to do something with my farmers market rhubarb that didn’t require leaving the house in weather more suited for the depths of hell. It’s hot here in Nebraska, folks. H-O-T. I didn’t want to go outside and I didn’t want to turn my oven up to 350 degrees. Fear and avoidance kept me in the house and forced me to be creative.
I knew I had some tart cherries in the freezer left over from pie-making, so with giddy anticipation, I swung open the freezer, felt the icy air wash over me, and I searched for the loot. Eureka! In the back of the freezer I found one bag of tart cherries, just what I needed to compliment the rhubarb. I was going to make my own fruit leather.
I grew up in a house where processed sugar rarely made an appearance. We were lucky if we were able to have Honey Nut Cheerios in cupboard, let alone Fruit Roll-Ups! Perhaps the lack of sweetened foods in our house made me the person I am today: someone without an aching sweet tooth. If I’m really craving something sweet, a piece of fruit or a glass of juice tends to do the trick. Thanks for that, Mom. Anyway, on to the fruit leather!
Fruit leather, I found, has to be one of the simplest, most versatile things a person can make in their kitchen. I chopped up the rhubarb and added it to a pot with the cherries. I happened to have peach nectar in the fridge, so I poured some of it into the pot to assist in the simmering process.
After the cherries started to release their juice, and the rhubarb softened, I used one of my favorite (and in my opinion, essential) kitchen tools – the immersion blender, to puree the mixture. To that, I started adding whatever flavors I thought would compliment the ingredients. I knew rhubarb was tart, as well as the cherries, so I added some honey, a little more of the peach nectar, some vanilla extract, some cinnamon, cardamom, and a little salt. All the while I was mixing up this delicious fruit mixture, I thought, “Why haven’t I done this before? It’s so easy, so fun, and I can easily pronounce all of the ingredients included in the recipe!
The next time you have some fruit around that might be a little too ripe, think of making fruit leather. You can do this with most any fruit, as long as it can be simmered down and pureed. My next one might be peach-apricot-honey, or strawberry-blueberry-cinnamon. I might even get nuts and try pear-apple-raspberry. Really, the method and effort is the same for all, and you can rest in the knowledge that you can have a delicious, sweet treat without cranking your oven up to eleven.
Tart Cherry and Rhubarb Fruit Leather
As I said, this recipe is very flexible, so feel free to add or take out whatever you want. Just be sure to taste the puree along the way and adjust to your taste.
1 bag (12 – 20 ounces) frozen, pitted tart cherries
1 pound rhubarb, washed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup low-sugar peach nectar
1/4 honey (more to taste)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Pre-heat oven to the lowest setting – for most ovens, this is anywhere from 160ºF to 170ºF. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and set aside.
Add cherries, chopped rhubarb, and peach nectar to a stock pot or large saucepan. Simmer on medium to medium-low, stirring occasionally, until juices have released from cherries and rhubarb is softened.
Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender, puree fruit mixture. If you don’t have an immersion blender, a regular blender or food processor is fine, but you might need to pass the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to arrive at the pureed consistency needed for this recipe.
Add honey and next four ingredients to the pureed fruit mixture. Stir to combine, taste, and adjust flavors as needed.
Divide the mixture evenly between the two parchment-lined sheet pans. Spread out mixture using an off-set spatula or silicone spatula. You want it to be the same thickness all around. By dividing the mixture, you’re more likely to end up with a thin layer of puree, which will result in a more “leathery” texture.
Place pans in oven and allow them to remain there anywhere from 2-4 hours, depending on the thickness of the layers. If possible, leave your oven door open a crack to allow the moisture to escape. Essentially, you are dehydrating the pureed mixture. Check the pans every 30 minutes, rotating them in the oven.
The mixture will be done when a fingertip pressed into it will no longer leave an indentation. It will assume the look of leather and feel a bit tacky.
Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the sheets (along with the parchment) into pieces and roll up. Store in refrigerator and peel from parchment when ready to eat.