Crispy Pickles - Grape Leaves Experiment

Wild Concord Grapes

Following traditional methods that use tannin-rich leaves in their ferments, which keep lacto-fermented foods crispy, as well as retaining their color (pickled green beans), we experimented with white oak leaves as they’re the most abundant. While they did keep the pickles good ‘n crispy, the astringent, bitter flavor was unpleasant, overpowering the normal spices and flavors we wanted to taste.

Next, we tried grape leaves.

We were pleasantly surprised with wild fox-grape leaves which didn’t disrupt the expected flavors – garlic, dill, and the pickling spice. We didn’t have to struggle through the bitter-tanning, dry-mouth taste of the white oak leaves!

Just like oak leaves, not all grape leaves are created equal, their tannin-levels varying depending on the variety. Experiment in small batches before committing your pickled cukes or green beans to one specific grape leaf.

Other tannin-rich leaf-options include raspberry and horseradish.

Scouting wild grape leaf sources….

Poison ivy and poison oak love to grow in berry and grape habitats, often becoming entangled. In our region, fox-grapes are prolific climbers, reaching as high as 30-feet, encircling utility poles as well as trees, are are often accompanied by vining poison ivy. In some instances such as this vining poison ivy it is difficult to tell whether the more-lobed leaf is poison ivy or one of the over 1,000 varieties of wild grape.

Make good use of the many internet sources available to you, as well as guide books. Here’s some good tips on wild-foraging.

We took a year to scout wild grapes, identifying them in spring (blossoms), summer (fruit) and fall (smell – exactly like grape jelly!).

Better yet? Grow your own! One small investment yields years of crispy-pickle grape leaves. You may want to plant several grape vines, as the early spring leaves – tender and juicy – are perfect for making homemade Greek Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves).