Bargain Bin Produce

Our local grocery store has a fantastic bargain produce section we lovingly call "the squishy shelf". Most items on the shelf are between 50 cents and a dollar and range in quality from practically liquefied to merely suffering from a few cosmetic blemishes.

As Dan and I learn to save money and bargain hunt, we're trying to take as much advantage of the bargain produce as possible. Recently, we picked up several pints of blueberries for 69 cents, a bag of 15 apple bananas for 99 cents and several 2-3 pound bags of cherries for 99 cents each.

Of course, with this time of fruit, processing is necessary--nobody really wants to eat 10 pounds of slightly squishy cherries. Our solution? Make sorbet and fruit leather! We're also making dried cherries with our dehydrator, but that's a pretty specialized piece of equipment.

To make fruit leather, heat and then puree fruit, sweetening to taste along the way. (I also recommend adding acid. We have done a cherry-lime puree and we added lemon to our blueberry-banana puree. Apple cider vinegar in an apple puree would also be fun.)

Pour the puree into a parchment lined baking tray and put it in the oven overnight (or until leathery) at the lowest setting. We have a gas oven with a pizza stone in it. The pilot light heats the oven up and the pizza stone keeps it warm, so we didn't even turn the oven on. Other recommendations include inside a (closed, off) grill that has been sitting in the sun, or even just in a sunny spot in the yard (particularly if you live in a dry, hot environment).

We also tried drying fruit leather with our fruit dehydrator, which worked really fast. It's a lot more energy intensive though, and I would only use this strategy if were using the dehydrator anyways.

You can use any leftover puree to make sorbet! Unless you have a serious sweet tooth and heavily sweetened your fruit leather, you'll want to add more sugar in this round. It will help keep the sorbet soft instead of a block of fruit-colored ice. We used an ice cream maker, but there are loads of instructions on how to make ice cream without an ice cream maker. Just make sure you cool the puree down thoroughly before trying to make ice cream out of it.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com.

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