Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gather Ye Grape Leaves While Ye May

The wild grapes vines are growing, and if you find yourself anywhere near a good patch of them right now, which isn't hard to do as they're quite aggressive growers, take a nice deep breath, because the grape flowers are blooming and their strong perfume fills the air all around. When you're done, you might as well gather some grape leaves. It doesn't take long or take up much space to pick about 100 at a time. You want a nice sized leaf if you plan to use them for stuffed grape leaves. I look for something at least the size of my palm. Any size will do if you're going to add them to your green smoothie. But you also want younger, more tender growth, not too mature and tough. I count back 3-5 leaves from the tip of the vine and pick the first palm-sized leaf I find, and so on.

Take them home, remove the stems and if you're feeling fastidious or just want an excuse to watch an episode of the old version of Beverly Hills: 90210 on Netflix, then wipe your leaves down with a damp cloth.

You can use them right away, stuffed and eaten raw or steamed. If you want to eat wild grape leaves all year, you can blanch and freeze them. With this method they are ready for use from the freezer right away.

If you're lazy like me or just don't want to be distracted from whether Dylan and Brenda are going to do it for the first time, simply lay your grape leaves in sealable plastic bags, preferably ones you've washed and saved for reuse. I do about 20 at a time. That way I'm not overwhelmed with piles of thawing grape leaves.

Freeze these bags ensuring they stay flat and don't get bent or crushed. If you do it this way, I've read that you should wait a few months for the freezing to break down the plant cell walls, and then no further prep is needed when you are ready for them.

You can can them too à la Hank Shaw.  I've even fermented them.  There's more than one way to skin this grape leaf.

This is how Florence does it: Oh, and when you go out to gather ye grape leaves, just make sure you know what you're after k? There are other vining plants out there, often growing right beside wild grape and some are easy to confuse, not to mention toxic. What out for Virginia creeper, wild cucumber and Canada moonseed.

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