The grape season is about to begin, but homemade wine isn’t
the only thing on our minds here in One-Block-Diet land. In keeping with our use-everything-that-is-useable
philosophy, it occurred to us that the leaves of a particular grape vine in
Sunset’s test garden could make a tasty addition to our next one-block feast, which we’re planning to have
Grape leaves are used extensively in many parts of the world
as tender, mildly-flavored wrappings for everything from spiced, nutty rice to
grilled feta. The yummy possibilities were more than enough motivation for us
to investigate how to harvest and prepare these leaves for immediate and future
After doing some research, we discovered that the best time
to harvest fresh grape leaves is late spring to early summer. The later the
season gets, the tougher the leaves become. Whoops.
No matter–our plan is to harvest and preserve the
hopefully-still-tender leaves first thing tomorrow. The trouble is, our
research has yielded several different ways of freezing and brining grape
leaves, and we’re not entirely sure what method is the best one to implement.
Furthermore, we’re a tad concerned about the potential for
botulism poisoning when canning our leaves. Grape leaves are classified as a
low-acid food, and thus if they are improperly canned, they can breed the
bacteria that produces the dangerous botulism toxin. Sunset editorial intern Natalie Jabbar, upon hearing news of our canning plans, raises an eyebrow. “I took microbiology a few years ago, learned a lot about dangerous spores,” she says, shaking her head. “Canning is often bad news bears.”
We may be stubbornly curious and slightly crazy, but despite
our misgivings, we’ve put together an action plan, resolving to add plenty of
citric acid to our brined leaves and to boil the heck out of them after they
are sealed in jars. What follows
is a hybrid of several preserving suggestions gleaned from:
Najat Sukhun, who is a longtime home cook and Natalie Jabbar’s mom.
(Najat suggested that we use citric acid rather than lemon juice to ensure that
our grape leaf brine has consistently adequate levels of acid to ward off
Fresh Preserving’s official guide to canning low-acid
foods. Exceptionally comprehensive information, with an emphasis on safety.
Where we got a lot of our info. Very clear instructions and appealing recipes
at the end.
Nice pictorial depictions of how to preserve grape leaves.
Kalofagas: One man and his Greek cooking.
If any of you readers are experienced in preserving fresh
grape leaves, we welcome any and all advice!
Here are the procedures that we intend to follow.
Picking the Grape
Choose leaves that are approximately the size of a woman’s
hand, and which are light to light-medium green. Najat advises looking for shiny, smooth leaves and steering
clear of fuzzy, thick ones. Also, make sure your leaves come from vines that
have not been sprayed with pesticides.
To Use Immediately
your leaves well and pat dry.
1 part salt to 4 parts water to a boil. Blanch leaves in batches of 12-15, covering them with
the boiling water and blanching for 2-3 minutes. Remove leaves and place them in ice water until fully
cooled. Dry with a
the above steps, then stack similar-sized leaves 6-20 at a time, lay them flat so they don’t crack, and place them in freezer bags. Freeze for up to 6
use, thaw in a colander and use immediately.
several canning jars by putting them in a pot of water and boiling for 10
minutes. Lower the heat to a simmer and keep jars in the hot water until
lids (without bands) in another saucepan and place over medium-low heat
until bubbles form (do not boil). Remove from heat and keep lids in the
hot water until needed.
your canner/boiling pot halfway with hot water and bring to a boil over
jars from the pot of hot water using a jar lifter.
blanched leaves into bundles.
Gently push bundles into jars with a wooden spoon, leaving a good
1½ to 2 inches between the bundle top and the jar’s rim.
the brine by boiling ¼ cup kosher salt with every 4 cups of water you
use. Add 2 ½ to 3 tsp citric
acid powder for every 4 cups of the brine. Boil brine (with citric acid)
for a minimum of five minutes, then pour the hot brine into your
leaf-filled jars. Make sure
that the brine covers the leaf bundle by at least 1 inch.
air bubbles by running a clean knife inside the rim of each jar.
jar lids from their hot water using tongs. Place lids on top of jars so
that sealing compound on lids meets the jar rims. Seal the jars by placing
bands on jars and tightening them firmly (do not force). Place sealed jars
in canner/boiling pot and fill with enough water to cover jars by about an
inch. Boil, covered, on high heat for 15 minutes. Let jars cool and store
in a dark, cool place for up to a year.
For more tips on
Sunset’s way to can, click here.
We’ll keep you posted on how this all turns out!
By Kaitlin Louie, Sunset food intern