"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Possum Grape-Leaf Pork Wrappers
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

When you are dealing with outdoorsy, natural things, strange things can happen. That was the case recently when trimming brush along the driveway led to the now famous (or at least real) dish I call the "grape-leaf pork wrapper."
As you may know, it is more than 300 feet from my front door out to the main road. For a few years, after buying this old house, I dutifully mowed the grass all the way out to the street.

Then, being unenthralled at the thought of following a lawn mower, and quite enthralled at the notion of having a front-yard jungle, I hit my lawn mower with a baseball bat, declaring that I would mow only around the house and a reasonable strip along each side of the driveway.
It has worked well. I have a wonderful outdoor laboratory in my front yard, replete with deer, groundhogs, squirrels, rabbits, a blue zillion birds as the seasons change, a barometer wild black raspberry patch, butternut trees, many wild flowers (including the recently discovered Star of Bethlehem), and a phalanx of other plants and critters.
But there was a problem. My peaceful coexistence policy of long standing backfired. I was treating my coexistors so well that they got pushy . . . tried to take over . . . It was time to do some trimming, at least along the driveway.
To shorten an otherwise long story, I ran across some possum grape vines that sported the largest leaves I had ever seen. They took me back to days that some of the old folks called "my misspent youth" on the Ol' Muscatatuck River, and I could vividly see frogs, fish, young rabbits (the statute of limitations has long since expired), and sundry other outdoor goodies wrapped in damp sycamore leaves, caked with stiff mud and rolled into a bed of coals. I would continue my outdoors pursuits.
The best part of this memory came as I returned, when the fire had died, to bash the now-dry mud ball on the earth and pick my lunch out of the ruins.
As my reverie faded, I asked myself a simple question: If the Asiatics cook with grape leaves, why couldn't I?
So big were those grape leaves that some of them bent at their points in my 12-inch iron skillet where I stacked them (minus their stems) for parboiling (salt and pepper, of course).
With the leaves cooking (covered), I finely chopped onion, celery, dried morels, green pepper, into a saucepan and added enough water to create steam (pan covered).
Meantime, I had chopped 11/2 (one and a half) cups of leftover pork roast and placed it a smallish mixing bowl. Once drained, the steamed-to-tenderness veggies were folded into the pork and the stock in the saucepan was used to make a sauce with flour, salt, pepper, and a few spoons of good barbecue sauce for color and taste.
My brown sauce was stirred into the pork-and-veggie mix to make a slightly stiff filling to be rolled in double thicknesses of the pre-cooked grape leaves.
I had thought I might have to tie the rolls with grocers' twine, but parboiling renders them quite pliable (easy game, Coach). 
With the rolls lined up in a covered glass casserole dish (adorned with a latticework of half-inch strips of jowl bacon and sprinkled liberally with a cheap white wine), I set the oven at 350 degrees F. and anxiously awaited the results. 

In half an hour things looked palatable, so I turned off the oven and turned on the high broiler. A few minutes later the bacon strips were turning crisp. For good measure, I decorated each strip of bacon with a strip of American cheese and spooned the sauce over each individual roll.
It seems that those Asians know what cooking is all about.

A TIP OR TWO--Veins of the grape leaves can be pretty tough . . . stems much to hard to eat . . . give them plenty of pre cooking . . . even test them while parboiling for tenderness . . . add the barbeque sauce to the gravy a little at a time, stirring it well until you get the color and taste you want . . . the rolls will keep well refrigerated, and taste as great later when microwaved as when they were fresh out of the casserole dish.

Image # 1: With a latticework of jowl bacon strips and a few spoons of white wine, the grape-leaf/pork rolls are ready for the oven.

Image # 2: A strip of American cheese (use what you like) and the sauce makes grape-leaf/pork roll a delight at the table.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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