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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

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 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 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 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 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. 


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 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:

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!!

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'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....

Would you like to comment?

  1. I loved the movie French Kiss! It's the first time I though I might like to travel through France.

    Also - I heard your interview on the Chow and Chatter podcast - I don't know what you were worried about. It was great!

    Grape leaves...I'm craving Greek food now...

  2. Very cool that you have grape leaves and so interesting to learn about how to care for and preserve them--great post!

    I linked to Two4Tuesday with a post on a farmers market visit, local ice pops and a BLT Salad. All about loving the real food this week. ;-)

  3. This is such a cool post! Having your own grape leaves for dolmades....soon running your own vineyard :P

    Wholesome real food at its best.

  4. Joanne, Deb...thanks so much! It's exciting for it!

    And Rue, thanks...idk, I just hate hearing my voice on "tape"...and I know!! French Kiss made me want to hop on a plane to France IMMEDIATELY!!! ;)

  5. Okay, weird....I had comments before mine and that's who I was answering, only mine is the only one showing up! What's going on????

  6. I've never planted or tried to grow a grape plant. My father-in-law had a huge vine that covered his back fence, I don't think he ever did a lick of work with it. It was pretty and chock full of grapes. Great post.

  7. Great, no Fantastic post Girlichef!

    Now that I work at the winery on the weekends, I have access to grape leaves, so I have been making a few things...

    My grandmother grew grapes as well, so I learned a few things- keeping the critters away is quite the job!

  8. I can't belief you actually processed grape leaves. I am in awe. Another great week for 242.

  9. I've always wanted to preserve grape leaves. A friend gave me some once - they're amazing. Way better than store bought. Good job and thanks for hosting!

  10. You really are totally amazing...and, my, what beautiful grape leaves you have!! :)

    Hey, when you figure out how to make wine from those grapes, remember that I'm right in the neighborhood, will ya?

    Thanks for hosting!

  11. great post, I love grape leaves how lucky you the step by step, linked for two for tues, great links today..


  12. Hooray...comments are back!! Wonder what happened?? Amy...I'll remember ;)

  13. Wonderful post! I also entered this weeks two for tuesday!

  14. What absolutely gorgeous photos. Makes me want to plant my own somewhere...not sure where, since I live in an apartment, but I can dream, can't I?

  15. Great post! I may have to try that later this summer when we harvest my dad's grapes.

  16. Oh, and I linked to my salt post! :)

  17. Ruth...of course! I'm a total dreamer...

    Audrey...welcome! so glad you linked your Real Food Baby Steps post...I really enjoy your series. Hope you come back and link up often =)

  18. Wow, so interesting the whole process with the grape the pictures...absolutely awesome!

  19. love these grape leaves and how cool to have a grape vine in your yard

  20. That's really cool. You've got me craving for some dolma all of the sudden. hehehe...

  21. Oh my gosh I LOVE this post! My dream is to have grape vines one day so I am so jealous right now! Gorgeous tutorial, thanks Heather!!

  22. Please excuse me for commenting so late.

    This is so cool!! It hadn't occurred to me that pretty much any variety of grape leaf could be used for making stuffed grape leaves. Our next door neighbours have concord grapes growing over their garage. If it's not too late to take leaves from their vine (it might be - it's been insanely hot here) I must remember to ask if we can have some of the leaves next spring/summer.


  23. Having grown up in a Lebanese household, grape leaves were always there. Hint - cultivated leaves can sometimes be too thick and leathery,try to find wild vines (there are a lot at my house)- they are thin and tender!

  24. @jbara- thanks for the tip! I've never seen any wild grapes around here, but I will keep my eyes peeled for sure =)

  25. Awesome! I have been wondering how to do this. My mom has a grape vine in her back yard and I would love to use those leaves year round.