Here we are on the brink of the big harvest season. Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, Oh my. But before you get overwhelmed fermenting garden veggies there is one thing you might want to pickle—grape leaves. In Southern Oregon the grape leaves are perfect for pickling right now. The leaves are large—good for stuffing yet still tender and fresh.
Why ferment grape leaves? I see two good reasons. One is to have a supply for winter dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), the other is to have some grape leaves available for pickling late in the season when the leaves have changed or in early spring. For example grape leaves are great to add to lacto-fermented asparagus.
Here’s why. When you use grape leaves to top crocks of krauts and pickles, they not only help keep everything under the brine: They also release tannins, which help keep the veggies crisp. If you pickle the leaves in early summer, you have them on hand to use for pickles during winter fermentation.
Make sure the grape leaves you pick are organically grown. As with all vegetables, the leaves are full of beneficial bacteria, and you don’t want to be consuming chemical pesticides. The variety of grape doesn’t matter. Whatever you can get your hands on: leaves from table grapes, Concord grapes, wine grapes.
Lacto-fermented Preserved Grape Leaves
2–3 dozen grape leaves
2–3 cups Basic Brine (½ cup salt to 1 gallon water)
Rinse freshly picked leaves in cool water. Put in a bowl, cover with the brine, and let soak for 1 hour.
To roll into bundles, stack anywhere from 8 leaves to all of them. In other words, one huge roll, is okay just keep stacking. Tightly roll each stack from stem end to the tip. (Think cigars and see photo.)
Pack into a sterile jar, wedging them under the shoulder of the jar or with 4 inches of headspace in a crock. Pour in the brine to cover the grape leaves completely. Reserve any leftover brine in the fridge (It will keep for 1 week; discard thereafter and make a new batch, if needed.)
Loosely cover the jar with the lid.
Set aside the jar or crock on a baking sheet, somewhere nearby and out of direct sunlight, in a cool area. Ferment for 3 to 4 days.
They're ready when the leaves go from a verdant green to a dark, dull green and the brine is cloudy. The changes are inconsistent. If you were to look into the fermenting bundles, you’d see that the centers are slower to change. These grape leaves will keep, refrigerated, for 12 months.
Store in the fridge in the same jar, lid tight.