I recently posted a story about the use of blackcurrant leaves in cooking, and my interest in the use of leaves in this way has been really piqued. The fruit from the tree or the vine is usually our focus, and most of us, if we think at all about the leaves from these plants, might pause and acknowledge them as a convenient, bio-degradable and edible wrapper for some ‘real’ food – such as dolmas (dolmades,) but that is about all.
Vine Leaves, Wine from.
Gather the leaves when young, weigh them, wash them, and drain them. As the stems are full of flavour, they must on no account be picked from the leaves. Place them in a large tub, and pour upon them boiling water in the proportion of two gallons of water to ten pounds of leaves. Let them infuse for twenty-four hours. Drain them, and press the leaves strongly to extract all the juice from them. Pour an additional gallon of water upon them, and again press them. Dissolve in the mixed liquor sugar and tartar, allowing seven pounds of sugar and one ounce of tartar for every ten pounds of leaves. Cover the tub with a blanket, place a board upon that, and leave the liquor in a warm situation for some hours. Draw it off into the small cask in which it is to ferment, and each day add a little of the superfluous juice, so as to keep the liquor near the bung-hole. When the fermentation ceases, which will be when the hissing sound grows less, drive in the bung, and, and bore a hole by its side for the vent-peg. This peg may be loosened a little every two days for ten days, to keep the wine in a cool cellar till December. Rack it into a fresh cask, and bottle during March. The leaves of vines from which no fruit is expected may be utilised in this way.
Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (London, 1870s).
There are other interesting ways to use vine leaves too. Here is an idea from The Experienced English Housekeeper (1747), by Elizabeth Raffald.
To Preserve Gooseberries Green.
Take green walnut gooseberries when they are full grown, and take out the seeds, put them in cold water, cover them close with vine leaves, and set them over a slow fire; when they are hot take them off, and let them stand and when they are cold set them on again until they are pretty green, then put them on a sieve to drain, and have ready a syrup made of a pound of double refined sugar, and half a pint of spring water; the syrup is to be cold when the gooseberries are put in, and boil them till they are clear, then set them by a day or two, then give them two or three scalds, and put them into pots or glasses for use.
Mrs Raffald also uses vine leaves in her recipes for preserves of codlings, apricots, grapes, pineapples, mustard sprigs, mangoes, cucumbers, and green-gages. Initially I assumed this was to add flavour, but it appears that their use helped develop the preferred green colour of pickles. It would certainly have been safer than the old advice to make pickles in a pot made of copper, which, in the presence of the acid from the fruit or vinegar, created a beautiful deep green colour due to highly poisonous copper sulphate. In her recipe for preserved green-gages, Mrs Raffald says ‘‘If you would have them green, scald them with vine leaves …’
In the following recipe, Mrs Raffald wraps each walnut in a vine leaf, and also uses the leaves in the brining process.
To Preserve Walnuts Green.
Take large French Walnuts when they are a little larger than a good nutmeg, wrap every walnut in vine leaves, tie it round with a string, then put them into a large quantity of salt and water, let them lie in it for three days, then put them in fresh salt and water, and let them lie in that for three days longer, then take them out, and lay a large quantity 'of vine leaves in the bottom of your pan, then a layer of Walnuts, then vine leaves; do so till the pan is full, but take great care the Walnuts do not touch one another; fill your pan with hard water, with a little bit of roach allum, set it over the fire till the pan is very hot, but do not let it boil, take it off, let them stand in the water till it is quite cold, then set them over the fire again: when they are green take the pan off the fire, and when the water is quite cold take out the walnuts, lay them on a sieve a good distance from each other, have ready a thin syrup boiled and skimmed; when it is pretty cool put in your walnuts, let them stand all night; the next day give them several scalds, but do not let them boil, keep your preserving pan close covered, and when you see that they look bright, and, a pretty colour, have ready made a rich syrup of fine loaf sugar with a few slices of ginger, and two or three blades of mace, scald your Walnuts in it, put them in small jars, with paper dipped in brandy over them, tie them down with bladders, and keep them for use.
Quotation for the Day.
Enchant, stay beautiful and graceful, but do this, eat well. Bring the same consideration to the preparation of your food as you devote to your appearance. Let your dinner be a poem, like your dress.
Charles Pierre Monselet