Grape Leaves and Locusts

It’s not Foraging Friday yet, but I have another wild edible up my sleeve for tomorrow, and I can’t wait to share our two little culinary adventures from last weekend.

Our Locust Tree was just at the end of its bloom, the sweet blossoms blowing about the yard in snowy drives. As I was flipping through my new foraging books from our thrift excursion, I came across YET ANOTHER entry on Elderberries. elderberry flowers, elderberry berries, elderberry this, that and the other…elderberries are beginning to take on the persona of a big white whale in my quest for edibles. I have yet to find them in the Bay Area (there are plenty of the Sambuca racemosa or pubens, otherwise known as Stinking Red Elderberry…the name says it all). I am hot to trot to try my hand at all things elder, but have yet to have the chance.

However, a recipe for elderberry blossom fritters also mentioned that one could also use Wisteria blossoms, as well as Locust flowers. A-ha!

There were still a few pristine racemes on the tree, conveniently blessed and washed clean by a thunderstorm. I picked 12-14 bunches, which made enough fritters that we were sick of them after stuffing most of them down as fast as we could.

As is the case with many wild foods, especially flowers, once cooked, or mixed in with other foods or sugar, the flavor tends to pale. The fritters were delicious, but I had to concentrate pretty hard to make out the floral notes. It also could be that the flowers were not as fragrant as when the tree first burst out, and something like elderberry or wisteria may have a stronger taste.

Locust Blossom Fritters

(from Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons)

1 C flour (I used all purpose)
1 T sugar (I used brown)
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs, beaten*
1/2 C milk (I used unsweetened soy)

*A note for vegans…basically this is pancake batter, so my opinion is you could use your fave vegan recipe and it would work just fine.

Comine all ingredients in a wide mouth bowl. Heat at least 4 tablespoons butter or margarine(more for better deep fried goodness) in a large skillet. Dredge each flower cluster through the batter and immediately place in the skillet. Fry until they are golden brown on each side. Drain on used paper bags.

Immediately sprinkle with powdered sugar and lemon (or orange) juice.

Devour.

Our home in Shasta Co. still has traces of the little attempts at homesteading, begun even before we moved there. There is a horse paddock, the remnants of an orchard (most of it burned in ’99), irrigation pipes scattered here and there, an upside metal garbage can that held the chicken feed, walnut trees…and out in the front yard, next to my old tire swing, are grape vines.

They may in fact be wild grapes, the Vitis californica, but we don’t really know. They have always been there, even withstanding the fire that burned them down to stumps (they are actually more robust since!).

Monday afternoon, as we finished packing up the car and I moped about, turning off the water and electricity and kneeling down to the earth to place my hand upon it’s pulse, the sky opened and it began to rain again. Remembering suddenly what I had meant to do all weekend, I ran around the side of the house to the grape vine, kissed its leaves hello and goodbye, and with permission, plucked 14 medium sized future dolmas. They rode back down to the city with us in a mason jar, and were cheery companions.

………

Using, and adapting, an excellent dolma recipe and method for rolling that I found here, and after doing some research on using fresh grape leaves, the magic began.

Prepping Fresh Grape Leaves for Dolmas

First, boil one cup pure sea salt or pickling salt in 4 cups water.

Once the water boils, using a serrated metal spoon, dip several leaves in at a time. They will immediately wither and brown. I would recommend 20 seconds or less in the bath. Scoop them out with the same serrated spoon and place in a collander, rinsing them immediately with cold water. Repeat.

Before going for a dip in the sea...
And after! So sad...but their transformation is under way.

Dolma Filling Recipe

1 cup uncooked long or short-grain brown rice
1/2 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
2 veggie bouillon cubes
1/2-1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup of pine nuts, chopped

2 1/2 cups water

Place all ingredients, except for the mint and dill, in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook for 40-50 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the mint and dill half-way through (about 25 minutes). Let cool for at least 1/2 hour.

QuiteCurious already has such a great tutorial on how to roll them, that I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. And seriously kids, don’t be intimidated…this was so easy I can’t believe I never did it before!

After the dolmas are rolled, place them in a steamer basket and steam for 50 minutes.

Remove from steamer, place on serving plate and let cool in the fridge. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, all the while trying to fend off your toddler. Watch the buzzards begin to circle (otherwise known as anyone in the house) and it’s snack time!

These barely lasted 5 minutes. (Shane consider yourself lucky…Jeff contributed one of his to the “Feed a Hungry Arab” fund, so you get TWO.)

Enjoy!

As I am writing this, more comments to my “Silver Fox Dreams” post are coming in. I am blown away by these new voices and your experiences of resonance. My heart has been so lonely in this conversation, and it certainly is not something I have spoken about at length with anyone who truly “gets it”. I have been moved to tears several times, and I am so grateful. Thank you.

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7 thoughts on “Grape Leaves and Locusts

  1. i can’t find those non-stinking elders either. 🙂 but i’m looking, too. and i recently found wild grape! this is great! i heard adding a grape leaf to homemade canned pickles helps keep them crisp, so i’ve thought about using them for that.

    1. Yes! The grape-leaf-in-the-pickles thing is true! I tried it last year and there was def a difference between the jars that had a leaf and the ones that didn’t. good luck on finding the elderberries…i will live vicariously through you when you do!

  2. Ooh, I love dolma! Do you know how many hundreds of these I’ve wrapped with my grandmother? Not so much fun after the first fifty or so, but soooo delicious! The recipe you used sounds pretty nice! A lot of times, we just use some parsley, rice, salt, and pepper. Sometimes a little cumin. But all the different flavors you’ve got going going on there seem delicious. Something that might be a nice addition is dried currants. We use them in stuffed peppers and eggplant a lot, and they just add this amazing sweet/tangy punch that perfectly compliments the salty/spicy flavors going on. We also make them in a kind of tomato sauce as well, which is super good.

    1. i had heard about using currants, but i have something to confess…i loathe raisins and currants are just a little too close to raisins for me to use. like, i kinda have a vendetta towards raisins! hee! but i can absolutely see how they would be good. i wonder about chopped apple maybe? my friend shane is jordanian and he also cooks his dolmas in tomato sauce…that sounds amazing! i wish i could try a dolma rolled by your expert hands. maybe we can include that in the regional swap? hmmm…how long would it take dolmas to get here from turkey? 😉

  3. I have just about the same stuffed grape leaf recipe from an old book on herbal recipes! I was recently thinking that I need to try it out if I ever find grape leaves.

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