"The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land."
-Abraham Lincoln

Welcome 2014!

The new year has started off with a bang.  With the record breaking cold spells we've been having in the Midwest, most of our time so far this year has been spent trying to prepare for, survive through, and repair after the bitter arctic temperatures we keep experiencing.  You know you're in trouble when it's warmer in Alaska than it is in the lower 48 states. 

Cleaning the chicken coop and collecting eggs have become two of my least favorite chores, as the chicken coop is in the large barn clear at the other edge of the property from the house.  Walking out there in -40 degree wind chills has been no picnic.  We prepared the barn well for the first blast from the polar vortex by sealing up as many holes as we could find, shutting both of the large doors and putting up temporary windbreak walls made out of sheets of plywood wherever we felt necessary.  That prep has kept the chickens well and happy but, even with all of that, our eggs have not fared nearly as well.  We average a dozen eggs a day, even during the winter, and the last few weeks we've lost more than half of them to freeze. 

Still the ones that we manage to salvage are beautiful, large and extremely nutritious.  We've built quite a large client base around the area for our eggs.  We sell a little more than half of the six to seven dozen we bring in each week, not to shabby if I do say so myself.

The cold weather has taken it's toll on more than just our eggs.  We all have been getting cabin fever.  I've been grouchy, the kids are grouchy, the hubby is grouchy, heck even the dog is grouchy.  So to lift our blues away I decided to make one of our favorite treats, homemade fruit leather!  I went with an old standby of mixed berries, banana, half a lemon (for kick) and a drizzle of honey for added sweetness. 

The berries were ones that we had frozen from the spring and summer.  I used a mixture of rasberries, blueberries and wild strawberries.  The banana would have been a bit better if it had been a little more ripe, but, hey, you use what you have, you know? 

Anyways, put three cups of any mixture of berries that suits you into a medium sauce pan.  Add one whole banana and the juice from one half a lemon. Turn the heat to medium low and simmer until you get a nice berry, banana, lemon sauce going.  I simmered mine gently for about a half hour until it looked like this:

Let me just say that after about ten minutes of cooking these berries your entire kitchen is going to smell AMAZING!  

Now there are two schools of thought on the next step, those who strain and those who do not strain.  Either way is fine but if you choose not to strain it will take the fruit leather CONSIDERABLY longer to set up and "leatherize" in the oven.  I choose to strain the liquid at this point and it finishes for me in less than half the normal time.   

After simmering and straining, you place the mixture into a blender or food processor and blend it until it is smooth.  Then you spread it out as evenly as is humanly possible onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  You'll make your life much easier if you tape the parchment paper edges to the cookie sheet before hand, just a little tip.  

After smoothing it out, you'll place the cookie sheet into an oven preheated to the lowest setting possible, in my case that would be 170 degrees.  Leave the oven door open a bit and wait, and wait.....and wait.  At 170 degrees and after straining it took my fruit leather approximately 4 hours to set up.  With a lower temperature and/or omitting the straining you'll be looking at six to eight hours, approximately.  You'll know the fruit leather is finished when it is no longer sticky and no longer wet but still soft and pliable.  If it's brittle and cracking you cooked it too long so it's not a bad thing to check on it every hour or so.  

Once out of the oven you can invert take off the tape and invert it onto a clean cutting board.  At this point I trim up the parchment paper and cut the fruit leather into long, 1 inch wide strips.  Then I roll it and give it to the kiddos and the hubby.  If there is any left, and that's a big if, it goes in an airtight container in the fridge where it will keep for at least a week (that's the longest we've gone before eating it all).  

Now isn't that pretty?  And yummy too.