Outsider Art

Texas “Pastry Queen” Rebecca Rather branches out with a holiday tree for the birds.

By Denise Gee

Photography by Robert M. Peacock

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the birds and squirrels will love dried fruit.How to Dry Slices of Fruit
Set the oven at its lowest temperature. Grease a baking sheet with cooking spray or line it with a silicone mat. Slice fruit as thinly as possible. A mandoline is ideal for this purpose. Dip the sliced fruit in lemon-lime soda (or ascorbic acid) to keep it from discoloring. Punch a small hole near the top edge of each slice with a skewer. Lay the fruit slices in a single layer on the prepared pan and bake them for 4 to 6 hours or until the slices are completely dried (or use an electric dehydrator and follow its instructions). Slip ribbon or a metal ornament hook through the hole before hanging it on a tree.

Wild about the Tree

Birds—and their dining competitors, wily squirrels—love fruit. And for the most part, the vitamin-and mineral-packed goodies are fine for them to eat except for citrus seeds and stone-fruit pits.

Outfitted with dried edibles, the tree usually lasts a couple of weeks before it begins looking scraggly.

“The animals and birds really go for it,” Rather says.

Buy organic fruits to avoid pesticide residue on the skin, which can be harmful to the birds, she says.

And do dry your own fruit, or purchase organic dried fare, to avoid feeding the animals commercial products with preservatives.

Some ideas:

  • Dried or fresh apple and pear slices, deseeded
  • Fresh cranberries laced into garlands
  • Dried pineapple slices
  • Dried starfruit slices
  • Dried kiwifruit slices
  • Dried whole or sliced figs
  • Fresh chile peppers
  • Dried slices of citrus fruits (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit)
  • Dried Roma or plum tomatoes
  • Popcorn
  • Stars or other shapes cut from tortillas or bread
  • Sugar-free cookies baked with birdseed and cut into shapes
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