Yes, Breatharian, brace yourself for more gardening drivel. I know. I'm intolerable on the subject. Just a little this time, I promise! It's the time of the year when all of the preparation and planning and waiting comes to fruition. I'm swimming in tomatoes. After scoring a stock pot from a yard sale....it was a "make me a deal" deal and the seller accepted my dollar....I'm reaching back through my recipe files for my favorite tomato sauce recipe. This has become a seasonal event in our house. The smells of baking bread and bubbling sauce tantalize the neighborhood....or at least the Hobbits. Everyone walks around with their noses in the air, sniffing. I don't think there's anything that evokes more of the feelings of "home" and "nurturing" than such good food wafting through the windows.
I've been spending such spare time as I have browsing through the archives of lists that chronicle our first furtive scrambles to figure out what was causing our problems and how to fix them. The medical community is singularly unhelpful in this area and almost all of what informed us came from those people who were fumbling and groping as we were. The Complementary Alternative Medicine community takes a lot of flack for giving little relief for the money that they collect, but I don't find the mainstream medical community to have a better track record. Somehow my searches for solutions always comes back to food.
Particularly the posts during our grain-free years stand out to me. Having a few years distance from that stage of our struggle, I'm reading my old posts with fresh eyes. What stands out to me most is how light-hearted they sound compared to how I felt. It certainly didn't feel light-hearted to me then. Some days, I felt like I was drowning. It was during that time that I developed such a strong feeling for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. After reading the books, I was never able to watch Peter Jackson's interpretation without having a stack of kleenex next to me, especially during Sam Gamgee's monologue about his favorite stories...the stories that really mattered.* I could strongly identify with the sense of profound weariness driven forward by desperation. It sounds melodramatic, perhaps, but watching the progression of my posts where more foods disappeared and the list of intolerances grew longer, I remember that this was how it felt at that time. Some days, I wished I had a Sam to carry me up the mountain.
The sense of unknown was an overwhelming burden. The not knowing why things were going wrong. Not knowing how to fix them. I saw a lot of guessing and groping in my posts. I'm not sure that I shared with other posters just how fearful I was. Afraid of not finding the answers. Afraid of things getting worse and not learning how to make it stop. And things did get frighteningly worse before they got better. One memorable post expressed the trap I found myself in, struggling to nourish children who couldn't tolerate the nourishment they need to be able to tolerate the food they need to nourish them.
I'm finding that dealing with personal disequilibrium is very much easier than dealing with it in your children, especially small children who have only a fuzzy grasp of why they eat differently from everyone else. It's easier to accept that I can't have that slice of pizza sitting on the table than it is for a four year old. And these Hobbits were absolute troopers. I can't sing their praises enough. I've never had a moment's concern about them sneaking food or not cooperating. Which is one of the reasons that I feel so highly motivated to find ways to get them the tastes that they so desire in a safe form. In the middle of our grain-free years, Bug sighed wistfully that he missed pizza. I asked him what was it he missed about pizza: the sauce or the crust? The sauce. Since fruit leather has always been one of his favorite snacks, I decided to use this platform to jump from the sweet to the savory.
The base of pizza leather is the tomato sauce. Since the flavor concentrates when dehydrated, it is necessary to add something that will dilute the taste without altering it. My first solution was to use zucchini or squash. This was a wonderful way of disposing of the excess from the garden that I thought I wanted to can, until I discovered what canned squash tastes like. Um. Won't do that again. Another solution--Bug's preference--is to dilute with apple puree, since he prefers a sweeter taste. Hey, I don't eat it, I just make it. Besides, this is a thrifty way of disposing with all of those odds and ends of apple slices that never seem to get eaten up. I have a bag in the freezer that I toss them into and bring out when it is time to make leather of one kind or another.
Foods that are low in pectin will crumble and separate when dehydrated. This is one of the reasons that apples are in all commercial fruit leathers. Another way to enhance the texture is to use pectin. Pomona makes a terrific product that is derived from citrus and is corn-free. Adding pectin, either through apples or canning pectin gives the pizza leather cohesive smoothness and chew.
Leathers are elastic in quite a few ways, both texturally and ingredient-wise. I confess that I don't have a hard and fast recipe for this, since I tend to just dump in what's on hand, using up the leftovers, bits and pieces of flotsam and jetsam in the fridge and freezer. It's all good.
2 quarts pizza sauce
1 quart squash or fruit puree
2-4 T fruit pectin
Run the sauce and fruit through the food processor until incorporated, adding the pectin slowly through the cap. When thoroughly blended, spread at approximately 1/4 inch thick evenly onto sheets of parchment or silicone baking sheets over dehydrating racks. Set temperature to 100-120 degrees and let dehydrate for about 6-12 hours. Some people swear by portable dehydrators, but I've never found one that I liked better than my own stove. It may happen that the edges will dehydrate faster than the center. In that case, I trim the dried parts away from what is still tacky. When it is completely dry and while the sheet is still warm from the stove, cut into strips with scissors.
Store in a dry container. I'd like to tell you how long it will stay edible in the cupboard, but I've yet to discover the end of the shelf life of leather...it doesn't stay around long enough to find out.
The last couple of years has seen the happy return of a few of our off-menu foods--grains not the least--but some of the things we relied on back then are still staples in the house. With the smell of tomato sauce curling through the house, appetites for pizza have been sharpened. Given the demands of canning this time of year, pizza isn't something I'm finding time to readily throw together. It's nice to be able to point to the pantry and say, "If you're really hungry for a taste of pizza, nibble on some pizza leather" and promise the real thing later.
While I still long for that future day when I can gleefully snoopy dance with the rest of the joyful "just" glutenfree-ers, it helps to remember that I'm still in the middle of the story and have yet to read the final chapter.
* "It's all wrong...by rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were and sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you...that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But, I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now."