When we first moved into our home about 14 years ago, our next door neighbors yard contained many of the fruit trees I had mentioned in a previous blog post - apples, plums, blackberries and grapes. But these were not just any grapes, these were Concord grapes that were at least 70 years old and had been picked lovingly for the last 75 years. These grapes had history. They were used during prohibition to make boot legged wine (evidenced by our neighborhoods several rum runner's sub basements to hide hooch), and they were enjoyed by children at a daycare that had been on the property. Warmed by the sun in peak season, they tasted divine.
Unfortunately, our neighbors sold the property about eight years ago. I was not happy, and I admit it was mostly because the loss of the fruit trees and grapes (did I mention they were 75 years old?). One night before building began, I dressed in dark clothing and attempted to dig up a couple of the grape vines. My neighbor who had sold the property, and happened to live in another adjacent house saw me, suggested I come during the day, that I might have better light to dig them up. You see he would have been fine with me saving them. I did. I dug up three plants, but I don't think I included enough of the ball because the plants didn't make it into the next year. I was sad.
Determined to have grapes, I went to our adored local plant store and purchased two plants. This was about six years ago. I plant one on each side of an arbor that got plenty of sun light. I initially browsed over how to prune grapes, but quickly moved onto another project and just let the grape go. The first year, there were no grapes. The second year, there was prolific growth and a few grapes. Since the third year, the growth and grape production has been incredible. I've had to in the past three years thin and prune the plant, particularly during the mid to late summer months because of the amount of grape leaves and vines that intertwine themselves into my other trees.
Two years ago, it dawned on me 1. grape leaves have some medicinal benefit 2. dolmathes are a great way to incorporate grape leaves into the diet, so I began to harvest the leaves for cooking.
Grape leaves have are edible. particularly the young tender leaves. The older they get the tougher they are which can be unappetizing. Grape leaves contain a great amount of fiber, but also a walop of calcium and magnesium. This is great for the bowels and bones, so think women who are being treated with hormone blocking therapy at risk for bone loss. They are also high in omega 3 fatty acids which act as anti inflammatory agents, and can help decrease hot flashes, night sweats and body aches which are associated with hormone blocking therapies as well. Grape leaves also have antimicrobial activities.
Preparation of the leaves for use in wraps and dolmathes includes after washing the smaller tender leaves, piling them in a stack 25. These should be bundled using a string (roll them into a little stack that looks like a cigar). Boil water with some salt, and quickly dip the bundle in the water (blanch the bundle-- quick in and out). Place the bundle in ice water for a couple of minutes to cool. You can use the leaves now or you can freeze them once you've place them in a container or in freezer bag.
I'll post a recipe for dolmathes vegan stuffing as well.