I’m a writer, personally and professionally. I write poetry (my first literary love), I keep a journal, I write essays and articles. I even have this blog — I don’t know if you’ve heard of it — where I write about food and stuff. Cough.
I love well-chosen words, purposeful syntax, concrete images, a sturdy grammatical infrastructure. I even love the thoughtful absence of words, the careful economy of constructing meaning.
But in second grade, let’s just say I didn’t know what syntax was just yet. And I was a twerp.
By twerp, I mean I was one of those flippant kids who think they’re immeasurably witty. You’ve probably run across a twerp or two in your own life. Hopefully you’ve resisted the urge to kick them, or at least haven’t gotten caught doing so.
My beloved second grade teacher, Mrs. Shaughnessy, was adept at resisting the urge to kick me. In fact, that amazing woman seemed to genuinely love me and want me to explore my talents.
Our daily journal assignment was supposed to give me the opportunity to do so. We’d all receive a sheet of that burlap-brown paper ruled with inch-wide lines — the only kind hospitable to the malformed block letters second grade hands produce. It was the sort with a blank space up top for an illustration, so the required length of our journal entries was automatically halved. Apparently, though, having to fill 3 whole lines with text was too fussy for me.
Every single day, I’d grab my sheet of paper and my great big honkin’ pencil — which had both the girth and color of a dingy school bus — and write some variation (ha ha, pun intended) of the following:
Today I was very, very, very, very, very bored.
The number of veries (verys? “very”s?) changed depending on how large I was writing that day — I’d just keep adding them until I filled up the page. Then I’d slap a half-hearted illustration of a teddy bear or a heart on that baby and stick a fork in myself, ’cause I was DONE. Time to color.
God bless my teachers.
One day, Mrs. Shaughnessy addressed the subject of my journal writing strategy by hacking off its legs. With a stern look, she declared that I was officially limited to two veries per page. The end. No arguments. I would just have to find it within myself to meet the length requirements without my crafty adverbs, and I might even have to, like, actually describe my day or something. The horror.
I look back now and think this shows saintly restraint on her part. If I’d been her, I might have also added, “And stop saying my class is boring, and stop drawing hearts just because they’re easy, and stop being such a twerp!”
Okay, okay, I guess I’d nix the twerp part.
Ah, second grade. The year of twerpitude, of learning that shortcuts don’t pay off, of Mrs. Shaughnessy’s encouragement. And the year of fruit roll-ups.
Really, I loved all of the tangy, sweet incarnations of processed fruit leather throughout my childhood: old school fruit roll-ups, fruit roll-ups with shape cut-outs, fruit-by-the-foot. I’d unroll them from their thin plastic wrappers and stuff a huge hunk in my mouth, pick the sweet stickiness out of my teeth with my tongue for a few minutes, and then repeat the process.
Because of all of my fond fruit snack memories, I knew my recent elementary school throwback picnic wouldn’t be complete without a grownup version of the fruit roll-up.
This recipe uses a combination of strawberries and raspberries with some minced basil thrown in for herbal brightness. The resulting fruit leather tastes more like a burst of tangy fruit than the processed kind. The recipe does take quite awhile (though not too much active work time) and only produces about 5 fruit roll-up sized portions, so you may want to work on two pans at once.
I’m not sure that I’d make this all the time given the amount of fruit required, but I enjoyed the fun results. I also love that it packs a ton of fruit into a single snack; if I had children, being able to control what was in their lunchboxes might motivate me to make it more often.
Were you a twerp as a child? Know any twerps? Do tell.
P.S. Dear Mrs. Shaughnessy, your class was very, very, very, very, very, very engaging. I promise.
Straw-Raspberry Basil Fruit Leather
Recipe by: adapted from Gourmet, with tips from Simply Recipes
Yield: about 5 “fruit roll-up” sized squares
about 3 cups halved strawberries
about 1 cup raspberries
spritz lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
scant 1/2 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F and line a sheet pan with microwave-safe plastic wrap.
Place berries, spritz of lemon juice, and sugar in a food processor or blender and purée. Strain into a heavy saucepan using a fine-mesh sieve and bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 10 minutes, continuing to stir occasionally. Stir in the basil and simmer for about 10 more minutes, stirring more frequently towards the end.
Pour the purée onto prepared baking sheet and use an offset spatula to spread it out as thinly and evenly as possible. Dry in oven for 2 to 3 hours until it’s slightly tacky but doesn’t stick to your fingers. At this point I turned the oven off and left it in for about 5 more hours. Then take it out and let it continue drying on a cooling rack for up to 19 more hours until completely dry and set. If some still-sticky purée exists around the edges where the plastic wrap prevented drying, just scrape that off and discard.
Lay a sheet of parchment or wax paper on the counter and invert sheet pan onto it. Slowly and carefully peel plastic wrap off of the back of the fruit leather and then roll it up in the parchment/wax paper, cutting it into portions if you’d like. Store in a sealed bag at room temperature for up to 1 month, or in the fridge.