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
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
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.