Now that many summer fruits are at their peak (with a few yet to come), freezers and canning jars are being readied to preserve the year's harvest. But it you've neither the time, inclination nor opportunity to put up mounds of fresh fruit, yet would still like a taste of summer once it is gone, fruit leather is a tempting solution.

One large cookie sheet of fruit leather requires only a small amount of fruit, minmal parparation time and is an entertaining project for children. The result is a flavorful, healthful snack which is as easily enjoyed at home, as at school or from a backpack atop the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Basically, fruit leather is dried fruit butter. Almost any kind of fruit will work, except membranous ones such as oranges and very watery ones such as melons. Fully ripe fruits should be used, even those that are less than perfect.

After washing the fruit well, remove and discard all the spoiled portions. Follow the accompanying chart that gives preparation instructions for different fruits and amounts of sweetener needed for each.

Prepare the fruit and measure into a large pot. Add the sweetner, either honey or sugar. If using sugar with dryer fruits, such as apples and pears, add about 1/4 cup water to prevent them from sticking to the pot. Bring fruit mixture to a boil and remove from heat. Puree the fruit in a food mill, blender or food processor until smooth.

The puree should be the consistency of apple butter. If too thin, return to heat and simmer gently, stirring often, until thickened.

Lightly butter a large cookie sheet and spread on the puree to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Dry fruit leather until it is firm to the touch and will peel off the cookie sheet in one large piece when lifted from an edge.

To hasten the drying, stick the cookie sheet in an oven set to the lowest temperature. After about 30 minutes, turn off oven and open4 to 6 hours later. Repeat if needed. Placethe piece of fruit leather onto a large piece of plastic wrap and roll up the leather and plastic wrap together.

For perking up dark winter days, wrap the roll in more plastic wrap and freeze. For more immediate use, refrigerate the roll and cut (with scissors) or yank the fruit leather intoserving-sized pieces.