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Preserving Grape (Vine) Leaves

I've always dreamed of having my own vineyard.  Well, maybe not always, but definitely since the first time I saw French Kiss...maybe before.  I wanted to look out at the horizon and see lines of posts with twisted vines and globes of purple, red and green.  I wanted to grow thyme, rosemary and lavender and have fruit tress, perhaps peaches, apples and cherries all nurtured in the same earth...to lend their subtle notes to the wine I was sure I would press and coax gently but with purpose from that treasured fruit. Just an intimate pressing...a small batch for us to enjoy and share with friends and family.  Perhaps I would plan seasonal meals with homemade breads and cheeses to accompany the wine...aaaaahhhhh.  And then one day, just over a year ago, we moved into our new house.  And there, just on the side of our driveway, near the end...was a gnarled, twisted, beautiful, brown vine pushing up through the earth and spreading itself down the fence. Grapes? We have Grapes! A smile, slow and full of desire and possibility played on my lips...
...but with all the fabulous dreaming I had done, I hadn't actually done any research in actualizing those dreams.  Sure, I now had grapes...one little vine, packed with potential..  What now?  Well, last  year I was just waiting and discovering what our new little spot of earth held dormant from before we were here.  We ate grapes out of hand, made pie and pressed a wee bit of juice.  But where to now?  The vines expanded quite a bit this year, from the last.  It hold even more of those beautiful bunches this year!  But reality slapped me in the face and I realized that in order to actually keep the vines going, I was going to have to learn how to take care of them.  Prune them (which I did not do last year), perhaps trim grafts and expand them (!?) and generally keep them healthy.  I am such a slacker sometimes.  I still want to do the whole wine-making thing, I just know that I have to get these basics down first. 

I found a fabulous bit of info on preserving the grape leaves over at Heartland Renaissance a few weeks back...and put it into motion right away.  One lesson at a time, girli.  I learned that late spring/early summer was the time for pruning grape leaves.  Very timely post, indeed.  Okay, first off the post told me that you only keep about one in every eight-ten of the leaves on the vine.  Hmmm.  Okay...look for the good-sized ones to prune.  You want an area about the size of your palm in the center...room for adding something tasty when you stuff them.  You are going to stuff them, right?  And trim them from the vine right where the leaf meets the stem.  This is to ensure that they will lay flat!

Only keep the leaves that are blemish-free...no little buggy snackin'-holes in them or unexplained brownish edges...send those to the compost pile.  Or let them fly free in the wind...
Next step, fill the basin of your sink with cold water and give those babies a bath!  Swish 'em around a bit to release loose dirt and little bugs that decided to hitch a ride.  Drain the water and do it again.  Twice worked well for me...cold, green and bug/dirt-free!
Now we move on the steps to preserving the grape leaves for future use.  I you wanted to use them now, you could simply blanch them for a minute, then use as you would the grape leaves you normally find in a jar. 

 OR

Stack your leaves.  Start with the largest ones and make sure they're at the bottom of the stack.  Pile 'em up about 30 per stack, dull-side down (HR found that most recipes calling for ~1 lb. of filling used about 25-30 leaves...this tip was invaluable.  I'm bound to mess up a leaf or two in the process of a recipe, so I just opt for the higher number and perhaps throw a few more on the stack). Once you've stacked them, roll them up...as if you were preparing to slice some honkin' big chiffonade! Tie them gently with some kitchen twine or cotton string or if you're like me and completely out, but only realize it after you've started the process, tie them with some sewing string.  Nobody'll know unless you tell them. 
Next up, we're going to blanch them in preparation for either preserving method.  Get yourself a bowl of ice water and set it to the side.  Start a large stock-pot of water boiling, adding 2 Tbs. of sea salt.  Once that water comes to a boil, gently lower the rolled leaves in and leave them there for 1 minute.  I used a long set of tongs to coax those leaves into staying underwater.  After that minute is up, move them quickly to the ice water to stop the cooking process.
Now, for the final step(s)...choose one or divide it up between your rolls:

FREEZING:
1. Carefully squeeze as much water from the leaves as you can and press between a paper towels or a clean kitchen towel.  They won't be completely dry, but that excess water will be gone from between the leaves, helping to stave off freezer burn.

2. Individually wrap each roll in plastic wrap and then place them in freezer bags, labeled and dated. 

---when you're ready to use the grape leaves, remove a roll from the freezer bag and thaw (still in plastic wrap) in warm water.  That's it.  How simple!!

CANNING:
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Add one of the following: 1/4 c. of fresh lemon juice per 1 c. of water OR 1/2 tsp. citric acid per every 1 1/4 c. water.  (Each quart jar uses ~2 c. of water.)

2. Prepare your jars/lids for canning according to manufacturer's directions.

3. Place one roll of blanched/cooled grape leaves into a prepared quart-sized jar (snip off the string first), folding over the top of the leaves if necessary.  Add your hot water mixture (from step 1), leaving 1/2" of headspace.  Remove air bubbles with small thin knife, skewer, or de-bubbling stick (ha!), press on lid and ring and process jars for 15 minutes.  Remove to towel-lined counter and allow to cool.  Check seal.  One of mine didn't seal properly, so I simply squeezed it and froze it with the others.
I was over-joyed to find this post at the perfect time. Thanks so much to Sarah at Heartland Renaissance for helping me in my grapevine knowledge-gathering process even though she did it unknowingly, that matters not.  Please be sure to head over and visit Sarah...the method I displayed here was all hers and her post is laid out much more clearly.  Remember me saying how much I was enjoying having all of these fabulous links at my fingertips at Two for Tuesdays?  Hers was another post I found this way!  Please be sure to click through and visit everybody who is playing along with the carnival...you'll find great posts, many with fabulous information--great opportunities to gain knowledge!

And YES, I welcome tips on caring for your own grape vines (vines, leaves, grapes) anytime!! I need all the help I can get....