Ok, back to the whole fruit leather business. I shared a basic way I do it, but there are several other ways you can do it. Lucky for me I found a great link so I can spare myself having to type it all out!
National Center for Home Food Preservation
This link tells you how to make fruit leather in the oven or in a dehydrator. I haven't ever made it in the oven, so I don't know if there are any other little tips and tricks to it. I do know that I don't want my oven on for that long! That would use a lot of energy and heat my house too much. Most ovens don't even go as low as you're supposed to "bake" it, so you'd have to keep the door open to keep the temperature lower and that's an even bigger waste of energy. Also, you could only do 2- 4 trays at a time. I'm not saying don't try the oven method, just that it does have some downsides. If you can manage to get a dehydrator at some point it's much easier.
I do know one thing you should never do- DON'T use waxed paper or aluminum foil to line your trays! You may use plastic wrap or parchment paper though. I used waxed paper once because I thought that's what my book said to use and the whole batch was ruined as the wax sort of melted and the fruit stuck to it completely. I was so ticked off!
Another tip that came to mind was related to over drying the leather. It's easy to do, especially if you are drying it overnight. I had one batch that was too dry all around the edges so I laid them all out like this:
One thing I disagreed with on that link above is how long they say you can store it. I've stored it for months and not had any problem with it at all. I think they are just being over cautious in their recommendation. As long as it's dried well enough so that it doesn't grow mold, you shouldn't have a problem just storing it on the shelf. But, chances are it won't last that long anyway! I just happen to make LOTS, so mine does last awhile. I think my mom has stored some for at least a year with no problem. It's the same as storing dried fruit if you ask me- you can store that for months with no problem. You may get some browning and loss of nutrients over time but it's not going to go bad unless it's too moist and grows mold.
That link doesn't say much about sun drying, but you'd prepare trays of fruit the same way you'd do it for the oven and then simply set the tray out in direct sunlight. Just make sure you cover it tightly with cheesecloth so keep out bugs and birds. It may take more than one day and you'll have to move it around to make sure it stays in the sun. I haven't tried this way either, so I can't say how it would go, but I think I will try it soon just for kicks and giggles. This would obviously be the most cost efficient method and would not add any heat to your home. I've even read of people sticking a pan of fruit on the back dash board of their small car and letting it "bake" in the sun on a hot day. They say it works great- certainly worth a try.
The last thing I wanted to go over is dehydrators. If you're in the market for one I highly recommend saving up and getting a rectangular or square one- NOT a circular one. It's pretty hard to place food in a circle around the hole in the middle and you will end up with funky round fruit leather. You'll have to buy the special trays to dry fruit leather on or else try to make plastic wrap go in a nice circle- ACK! Here's a link to a good comparison chart for the two most popular, high-quality brands I know of:
Dehydrator Comparison Chart
Notice down near the bottom of the chart where it says how many square feet of drying space there is? I have the Excalibur 2900 and it has 15 square feet of drying space! Notice below that line the approximate cost per square foot of drying space and see that mine in the lowest at $12. I really like my Excalibur dehydrator and recommend it if you can afford one. I honestly don't know when I'll break even with it (as in I will have saved enough money from drying my own things to cover the cost of it) but I love it enough that I feel it was a good investment anyway. I tend to want to save up my money and get nice, higher quality items that I won't have to replace again and again. You can get a $40-60 cheap-o circular dehydrator and you might be just fine with that if you don't plan on doing a lot with it, but if you are serious about wanting to dry fruit, make fruit leather and all the other things you can do with a dehydrator then get a nice one!
Oh, do you want to know what else you can do with a dehydrator? Well, for starters you could get a book on dehydrating- you might even find one at your local library. Do a search online at a bookstore or Amazon and you'll see many options. The one I have is called Preserve It Naturally II and it's very thorough. Here's one or two things you can do:
I can even put a jar of homemade yogurt in mine, set the temperature right and it will keep it nice and warm to incubate. I usually don't do this because I don't keep the dehydrator out all the time and it uses electricity, but it works really well!
You can make your own graham cracker dough and dry it in a dehydrator too. I tried this once and it was pretty good.
Here we have home made graham crackers. No, they don't look terribly pretty (hey, I never claimed to be Martha Stewart!) but they actually taste pretty good. They are really easy to make and there are several ways to do it.
2 c. whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. butter or margarine softened
3 1/2 T. honey
2 to 4 T. milk
Combine 1st three ingredients and set aside. In separate bowl cream butter, honey and 2 T. of the milk together. Add the flour mixture and mix with a fork until well incorporated, adding another tablespoon or two of milk if needed. The mixture must be moist enough to hold together. Roll out the mixture between sheets of waxed paper to about 1/8 inch thick. Next the recipe calls for cutting the dough into 2x2 squares, but I don't see how that would work very well with a rather sticky, limp dough, so I just left it rolled out flat and then cut it apart right after taking it out of the heat. Prick with a fork. You could also use a pizza cutter or one of those fancy wheels that makes a ruffly edge to make the indentations so the crackers would separate easier later- just like regular crackers have little "seams."
Finally, the recipe I used was for a dehydrator but you can place the waxed paper on a cookie sheet and bake it in the oven at 375 for about 15 min. or until lightly browned. If you happen to have a dehydrator then dry it for 4 to 6 hours at 145 degrees or until crispy.
Well folks, have fun dehydrating food! Let me know if you try something and what success you have- especially with the oven method of drying fruit leather.