Grape vine leaves (Vitis vinifera - cultivar unknown)
At Blanch & Shock, we have been experimenting with leaves from fruit trees recently, most notably fig leaves, which we have been making into tinctures and infusions. I picked some vineleaves from between the lethal tendrils of razorwire at Edible Eastside in Birmingham, thinking about the use of the leaves in Sarma (or Dolma, depending where you are) in which leaves are stuffed with rice and/or meat and boiled or steamed. I wasn’t planning on stuffing them necessarily, just seeing whether they could be encouraged to express a good flavour. It being the middle of summer, the leaves were quite dry and tough, and I wanted to avoid boiling them for hours as tradition dictated. Instead I left them submerged in a 5% salt brine with a sprig of bay for five weeks, hoping they would soften somewhat. After five weeks, they smelled good - lactic and vegetal and a little bitter, but were still tough and sort of crinkly. So they went into white wine vinegar, with the later addition of some Greek Yoghurt whey. In this solution they now sit, stubbornly refusing to become soft, but tasting great.
Tannins have the effect of keeping lactically-fermented pickles crisp, and this blog post contains some more information about their role in fermentation. Given the large amount of tannins in leaves, and later in the grapes that will follow, it could be that these leaves will never get soft enough to be served as they are, but could possibly still be wrapped around a stuffing and steamed or boiled. Incidentally the pickling brine, especially since the addition of vinegar and whey, has become kind of delicious, reminiscent of the taste of dolma. It may well find itself forming the basis of a new pickling brine for something else.