Saturday, August 27, 2011

Wild grapes & their leaves

This summer has been ferociously busy, but I have managed to find time for some wild foods harvesting and preparation. Last week I crossed the road and fields to the woodline, in search of tender wild grape leaves and the small tart purple wild grapes.

With them I planned to make dolmas and grape juice. Euell Gibbons and other wild food writers say you should collect grape leaves in June while they are new and tender, but even in August I found several dozen that were not too bug-eaten or leathery; and I also gathered numerous ripe, miniature grape clusters, found hiding beneath the blankets of vines and leaves.

Back at the house, I cooked the leaves in a few inches of boiling water (with olive oil, garlic, red wine vinegar) for about five minutes to soften and partially cook them. While they drained and cooled I prepared rice with olives, garlic, nuts, raisins and other tasty ingredients. I dabbed a bit of the rice mix into each leaf; folded top and bottom and sides of each leaf around the mix, and placed each dolma bundle seam-side down in a glass casserole pan.

When the pan was full (one layer, tightly packed), I poured over it a flavorful mix of oil, vinegars, salt and pepper (also some liquid from a jar of olives) - enough to come up the sides of the dolmas but not to cover.

A tin foil cover was applied to the casserole, and I let it simmer in the oven for about 45 minutes at 350F. Then it went into the fridge to cool. These dolmas were wildly flavorful and tender - success!!!

As for preparing the grapes for juice, I sorted the ripe purple grapes into a pan with a little bit of water, brought it to a boil and let it simmer for about 10-12 minutes. I placed a metal mesh kitchen strainer over a bowl and poured grapes and juice into the strainer.

With a wooden spoon, I rubbed the grapes gently so that their pulp went through the strainer into the bowl with the juice, leaving the grape pips behind in the strainer (I discarded the pips, yes of course into the compost bin).

Tasting the resulting juice, I found it exceedingly tart, so I cut it with about a cup and a half of water and 2-3 T of sugar, stirred, and let it cool in the fridge. Even a week later it was AMAZINGLY pure and refreshing in its purple grapey flavor - I mixed it with seltzer - POW!

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