The wild grape vines this year are a bust. Not just mine, it seems to be the case everywhere in this area. I will be lucky if I can gather enough wild grapes for one good recipe. However, the leaves are still useable, and although some of them are too mature to pick, there are still enough young ones to use for cooking.
Now that it is pickling season, grape leaves are especially useful for adding to pickles you want to be really crunchy. A few leaves in each jar will prevent your crisp vegetables from going mushy. This is because grape leaves contain tannins which inhibit the enzyme that makes the vegetable soft. If you don’t have grape leaves, a pinch of black tea leaves, or a few oak or cherry leaves or horseradish will have the same effect.
In order to test this theory, I decided to ferment cucumbers, which takes a few days but no extra effort. To do this you will need a brine made of 2 Tbsp salt per quart of water (non-chlorinated) and some flavourings, such as garlic, onions, herbs and spices. You could just use a ready-made pickling mix, but I decided to make my own mixture using primarily seeds, herbs and spices mostly from my garden.
For one jar, I filled it with whole, small cucumbers, a few cloves of garlic, 3 allspice berries, 10 peppercorns, 1 chopped dried chili pepper, 1 tsp each of mustard, fennel and coriander seeds, and a few dill flowers and leaves. I used about 5 young grape leaves at the bottom and top of the jar, and covered it all with brine. The grape leaf on top prevents any of the other ingredients from floating to the top. In addition, I placed a sterilized stone on top of the grape leaf to keep everything well immersed.
I then covered it with a cloth and let it sit for about a week. When I figured it was ready by tasting, I put a lid on it and placed it in the fridge. It will continue to ferment a little there, and I hope the garlic mellows out a bit yet, but the flavour and texture of the cucumbers was perfect.
August 10, 2014 at 8:49 am
Hilda, you are brilliant. You solved a question I had for decades and did not know the answer.
Persians/Iranians are known for their cucumbers. It is very common to see slender 10~15cm cucumbers arranged on a fruit platter or just cucumbers served in lieu of fruits. Cucumbers don’t last long but have a few days of crisp, fresh taste. However, a particular Mr. X had a secret method of keeping cucumbers fresh for a few weeks. Finally, Mr. X revealed his secret to my Father, knowing that my Father was a cucumber aficionado. Mr. X had an entire drawer in his refrigerator filled with grape leaves. He inserted cucumbers into the pack of leaves, which kept them crisp and fresh for long time. For decades, I wondered if it was the grape leaves or any leaves or for that matter if shredded papers would do as well. I have now learned from you that grape leaves contain tannin (black tea leaves, oak, cherry or horseradish will have the same effect). Wow.
August 10, 2014 at 1:17 pm
Thanks Fae. I can’t believe I can really teach you anything, but nice of you to give me the credit. Of course, these are supposed to work with regular vinegar pickling too, but I am such a fan now of fermentations that I think I will stick with this. Maybe next time I’ll use more leaves.
August 10, 2014 at 11:05 pm
I just reread your comment and realized you meant that he used grape leaves to store them fresh too. That is interesting and very good to know, especially for those who have a bumper crop of them. Thanks.
August 10, 2014 at 1:30 pm
Thank you Hilda, this is beautiful. I have a question about the brine. I actually fermented some beautiful cornichon cucumbers yesterday and I am not sure I used enough salt. I wanted them sweet and hot and used some honey, hot peppers, garlic, dill and pressed everything down with horseradish leaves, which I usually use. For fermentation I used 4 tbls of kefir whey and a heaping teaspoon of salt. Nourishing Traditions calls for a tablespoon of salt per quart jar, which I think is too salty, when you are using whey as well. With 2 tbls of salt to your quart brine, do you find this too salty? Now I may need to add more salt. 😉
August 10, 2014 at 2:19 pm
I wish I had more experience in this to be able to answer your question with complete confidence, but it seems to me that if you already have whey, you would need less salt. If you see bubbles forming on top of the solution, that will be a good indication that fermentation is happening. I was worried these would be too salty with the brine, but I find them just about right, but can’t speak for other people’s taste. In short, I would stick with what you have. Let me know how it turns out.
August 10, 2014 at 3:20 pm
Thanks Hilda. I was in a hurry yesterday and so I had not added all the spices I had intended. After reading your great post I added some allspice, coriander and dill seed and I did go ahead and add another teaspoon of salt. I think it will turn out great and not be too salty. 🙂
August 10, 2014 at 2:47 pm
These look great. I have pickled cucumbers on my to-do list and now feel motivated to actually start some. Keeping everything weighed down is always a challenge. I sometimes use cabbage leaves, but don’t always have a cabbage on hand. But we have lots of grape leaves outside, so I’ll try this. I had no idea they would help keep things crunchy too. Thanks so much for the tips.
August 10, 2014 at 3:49 pm
Very good to know this property of grape leaves. I’ve got to go grab a few from the neighborhood cliffs . . . the grapes I tasted and WHOA not for eating for sure, but as you’ve shared with us there are many uses to the leaves! And I love pickles . . . crisp pickles, that is!
August 10, 2014 at 5:14 pm
Thanks for the comment, Sue. But I would not judge the use of wild grapes by the taste of them right off the vine. There are plenty of things we do eat which on their own are not edible, but once cooked or sweetened can be so good. For example, grape ketchuphttps://alongthegrapevine.wordpress.com/2013/08/27/wild-grape-ketchup/
or to make marinades especially for game. I am really quite sad I am not going to have a decent harvest this year.
August 10, 2014 at 9:25 pm
You need to write a book you have so many good ideas. I have grapes/vines but not sure I’f edible must find out! My pug liked them though
August 10, 2014 at 9:51 pm
Thanks for the vote of confidence. I may be going out on a limb here, but I have never heard of grape leaves that were not edible. Your pug had good taste.
August 10, 2014 at 10:16 pm
He did hehe! The vine grapes are pretty small and green but someone said perhaps not edible so was not too keen to just try 🙂 but imagine the leaves must work all the same but would love to know about the grapes x
August 10, 2014 at 10:01 pm
Very cool….no grape leaves in Newfoundland but I may try your black tea leaves trick. Really enjoying your blog.
August 10, 2014 at 11:02 pm
Thanks for stopping by.You may not have grape leaves, but last time I was in Nfld I was so impressed by the wild rosehips, I think it was in September. I imagine there is some great foraging to be done there.
August 11, 2014 at 6:31 am
I had read that about vine leaves – glad to know that it actually works and keeps the pickles crisp. Got to get my pickling jars out!
August 11, 2014 at 1:06 pm
i wish i could get wine leaves in India I usually pickle small variety of cucumbers with whole spices or dill or make with peppery with some chili peppers 🙂 These look gorgeous Hilda !!
August 12, 2014 at 4:43 am
August 11, 2014 at 5:45 pm
What a wonderful tip about adding grape leaves to pickling jars. I am disappointed sometimes when I’ve pickled something for weeks and they are a bit mushy. I will have to pick up grape leaves to try this for my next batch of pickles!
August 12, 2014 at 4:43 am
For sure. I hope you have better luck using the grape leaves. Nothing more disappointing than mushy pickles.
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