For most people its the sign of the first daffodils, but for the ones in the know its the hint of garlic in the air and the first sight of those small green shoots hiding in a local woodland that brings on the smiles of the new season. And boy! were we waiting for the new Season! what a winter that was, so it was no surprise that the first glimpse of wild garlic brought on a squeal of excitement.
Once you can recognise these versatile little wild plants and you get to know where they will pop up each year, you will wait all winter for that nod from nature.
As wild foraging goes they are probably the easiest to identify, however, like all things wild and edible they can have a sneaky impersonator. Closely resembling lily of the valley you don't want to mistake the two, so as always, do your research and only pick when absolutely sure you have got it right. Invest in a pocket sized guide book like collins gem Food for Free, for piece of mind when identifying all wild edibles.
Wild Garlic (or Ramsons as they're also known) can be found in local woodlands and thrive on damp ground. The obvious tell tale sign is the amazing smell, we would say more like an onion but others would disagree and say a definite garlic smell. To be sure rub the leaves between your hands and the aroma will tell you you've got it right. Broad, spear shaped leaves can be found from early March, flowering from April onwards.
When gathering the leaves and flowers (the flowers are also edible) be careful not to disturb the bulbs ensuring they return in abundance for the following years. Take only what you plan to use, this little plant gives you a real hit of flavour, so you made need only a few leaves to start with.
A classic pesto (recipe below) will refrigerate for a while and can be added to pasta, chicken and fish. To make your wild garlic go a little further try infusing your olive oil (Spring gift idea) or making a garlic butter to freeze.
Wild Garlic Pesto
1 Large Bunch of Wild Garlic (washed)
1 Small bunch of Curly Parsley
60g of Pine Nuts lightly toasted
150ml Olive Oil
1 squeeze of Lemon
Salt & Pepper
Holding back the olive oil, place all the ingredients (or your own variation) into a food processor and blitz for a minute or so, then slowly add the oil until blended.
Or if like me you go from Ray Mears to Nigella in a flash, finely chop all the ingredients by hand or pestle and mortar and mix in a bowl accordingly, Nigella pouting and shameful flirtatious eye contact optional.
Wild Garlic Butter
150g Unsalted butter, softened
20g Wild Garlic
1 tsp flaky Sea Salt
Wash and dry garlic leaves then finely chop with a sharp knife (dull knife will make the leaves mushy and darker in colour) Add leaves to butter with the salt and mix well.
(To prepare for freezing) - Wrap the butter mixture tightly in 2 layers of cling film to form the shape of a large sausage, squeeze all the air out and tie both ends tightly, cutting the excess cling film off. To use the butter, take it out of the freezer 10 minutes before, then slice portions you need, returning the rest to the freezer.
Imagine basting your steak with this stuff!!
Its time to get outside and go on a treasure hunt this Spring. What amazing little jewels we can find in our local woodlands, just to come across the smell of wild garlic is a treat in itself. Life is definitely looking a lot brighter than it has been in a while, and a walk amongst the newly budding trees is a tonic for the senses.
When you've foraged a few leaves, fire up a stove and create your own little feast direct from nature. A makeshift campfire in the garden to boil up some pasta is a perfect end to your foraging adventure. And you can sit back smugly, knowing you were hunter, gatherer today.
Lets start planning those future adventures. Spring has arrived. Finally!
P.S One last tip, if its date night, lay off the wild garlic. You're welcome.