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Cooking Dolmas with Grape Leaves

Posted by David Grau on

Originally Posted on May 23, 2013 

Today we share information on how to break up a broody hen, how to cook with grape leaves, and offer a comparison between the three-tine and four-tine cultivator attachments for the Valley Oak Wheel Hoe.

The Tool Co. was covered in our local newspaper! The Chico News & Review is a weekly paper, which reports on various local and regional events. They also have a sustainability section where they offer up stories about environmental issues with a focus on sustainability. A little media attention is nice, especially in the small-ish town where we make the tools. The paper interviewed Valley Oak Tool Co. owner David Grau for an article about the tool company.

Cooking Dolmas with Grape Leaves

Grape leaves really put on a lovely show of glossy green foliage in the spring. In one garden we have an old grape vine, which has climbed up into numerous trees, and offers a dense shaded area once fully leafed out. The leaves are so copious that we did some research into how to use them to make dolmas (stuffed grape leaves).

grape leaves in steamer

Most recipes we found called for opening a jar of brined grape leaves to start the process. We dug a little deeper and found information on using fresh grape leaves as the starting point. It is a bit more time consuming, yet not at all difficult, and we found it very satisfying to use grape leaves from our garden.

Here you will find the step-by-step method for how we went about making dolmas with fresh grape leaves.

Pick many grape leaves, no smaller than the size of your hand, and only the tender ones. Be sure to use leaves that have not been sprayed with anything toxic. Rinse them off and set aside.

blanched grape leavesFor the stuffing, assemble the things you would like inside. We used: one fennel bulb, a few leeks, two white onions, a few scallions, a handful of mint, and parsley, along with a cup of Arborio rice, a pinch of salt, some black pepper, and olive oil to moisten the mixture.

To cook the dolmas we used a bamboo steamer, which we lined with un-blanched grape leaves. The fennel, leeks, onions, scallions, mint, parsley, seasonings, olive oil, and uncooked rice were mixed together in a bowl, and left to sit while the grape leaves for wrapping were prepared.

dolmas in bamboo steamer

Blanching grape leaves involves placing them in a pan of boiling water, then letting them sit for about three minutes, until they are tender but not falling apart. With a sharp knife or scissors, cut off the stem of each leaf (this can be done before blanching too).

Take each blanched grape leaf and lay out on a board with the stem side facing you. Spoon about a tablespoon of the filling into the leaf, and fold the base, then sides around the filling. Roll away from you so the top of the grape leaf ends up under the roll. Place into the lined steamer basket, and repeat with the remaining leaves and filling. We made about forty dolmas, which fit into both top and bottom sections of our lined bamboo basket.

Steam for approximately 45 minutes, let cool while covered, and enjoy.

Chickens in the Garden: Breaking Up a Broody Hen

chicks with henSpringtime has hit the chicken flock, and hens are going broody left and right. One of our hens was very determined to sit. We tried many of the recommended methods for breaking her of the strong instinct. First, a few days in a wire-bottomed pen (chicken jail). This method supposedly makes the hen unable to maintain a warm and moist enough environment under her to incubate eggs. A few splashes with the hose were added when she still wouldn't break.

Ramping up the approach is to put the hen in with an active rooster. The two of them snuggled at night, and kept their distance during the days. Finally the chicken keeper tried a third approach, which was to purchase very young chicks from the feed store, and place them under the hen after she'd been sitting for a few days, after she got out of jail. Off to the feed store for three-day old pullets, kept under a heat lamp during the day, then slipped under the broody at night. It is important to use chicks that are only a few days old, otherwise the hen might reject them. In our case, the hen took to the little peeps and has been showing them around the yard for the past couple of weeks.

Our hen is a bantam Cochin, and the chicks are standard Barred Plymouth Rocks. They'll be the biggest chickens in the yard once they've grown. They'll lay large eggs, and are also suitable meat birds. The Barred Rocks can live quite a long life, are considered a calm breed, and have been around since the 1800s. We think it will be interesting to see how the little bantam roos, which rule the roost, will react to these chickens once they are full grown birds. At any rate, we'll have some larger eggs, a new breed to study, and the ever-fascinating flock dynamic to watch.

Valley Oak Tool Co. Trial Garden

The tomato plants, oh how they grow. In our last report on the trial garden we reported about David having staked his tomato plants. He put up the first few lines of string, and then wheel-hoed the paths to weed between the rows of tomato plants. The paths were completely weed-free!

David Grau using a stake pounder

David staked Carla's plants, and requested that she water the area before hand, to allow easier stake pounding with the Valley Oak Tool Co. Tomato Stake Pounder. Under slight protest (the plants did not need watering on account of the heavy layer of mulch around them) Carla watered her tomato plants, and David pounded in a stake for each one. She'll string the plants to each post, which is a much-needed task, since her plants are getting a bit unruly. The plants are setting fruit, some of the cherry varieties are just starting to get a hint of ripening on a fruit or two.

Our eggplants and peppers have begun flowering, and some volunteer potatoes have joined our largely Solanacaea garden.

Three or Four Tine Cultivator?

We get a number of inquiries regarding which cultivator is the best one for using with the wheel hoe. We offer a three-tine and a four-tine version. They are both eight inches wide, and both go three to five inches deep in the soil.

Three Tine Cultivator

Recently a customer asked about which would be best for de-thatching a lawn, so Carla, our operations manager, tried them both on her ever-shrinking lawn. Her lawn is a mix of different grasses, rye, fescue, and a few remaining patches of St. Augustine's grass. The de-thatching experiment involved taking three passes, on two different sections of lawn, with each attachment.

What she found was the three-tine cultivator was easier to push through the grass. The four-tine caught on clumps of green, and ended up pulling away more of the green grass than the passes with the three-tine did. They both pulled away plenty of the brown thatch, and both left good-sized piles at the ends of their rows.

The cultivators were not designed to de-thatch lawn, and we were happy to find that they did a good job of it.

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