I am not entirely sure whether it is safe to say this but I think spring has finally arrived and I think we can finally throw off the shackles of a long, long, long winter. Just by simply saying that, I might have jinxed everything and Mother Nature could well be sniggering behind her cowl, ready to unleash another Ice Age upon us. But seriously, I think the worst is over. How do I know this? Well just lately there has been a stirring in my mind, a new awakening impetus and a burning desire within my soul. A yearning to take to the surrounding fields and forests and seek new growth, new life and new beginnings. To dance across streams, to climb trees, to run with the stags, to awake the cuckoo, to rip my shirt off and smear badger doo doo all over my face and yell at the top of my lungs, “Aslan is back! Aslan is back!”
I don’t know why but I have always had this strange connection to the changing seasons. Although I do have to say that when I see wild garlic start to sprout up from the ground, I also sort of take that as indication that at last, spring is here.
As an ingredient, wild garlic has definitely become more and more popular over the years, especially for the ambitious home cook. And come April, a rash of the stuff explodes onto restaurant menus across the land with chefs holding the location of their secret stash, close to their chests. However ramsons, as they are also known, are quite easy to find anyway. Usually found in broad clumps in deciduous woodland areas or by river banks, wild garlic can be identified by its long, wide leaves and when in full bloom, pretty white star-like flowers. And if you come across a crop, the surrounding air will have a heady garlic aroma as the wind breezes through, which is all quite enticing really. Although it pays to remember that when foraging wild garlic, or any sort of foraging, do apply the golden rule of ‘thirds’. In other words, take one third of the plant, leave two thirds.
I am lucky enough to have wild garlic grow in my garden and when the shoots begin to appear around our cherry tree and broaden into pungent leaves of green, I do get slightly hysterical with it all; grabbing fistfuls to smell and shovel unwashed into my mouth. I kid you not. And this is regardless of the fact that our cats often spray their business in that area.
However, over the seasons, I have to say that I haven’t really utilised our crop as much as I should. In the past I’ve snipped some into salads, scrambled eggs or steamed and wilted very quickly and used as accompaniment for salmon or chicken. But more often than not, I’ve given the stuff away to friends and family. With the intention of using this altruistic act to bribe them for goods, services and favours at a later date. This year I intend to get a lot more experimental. Currently on the cards is wild garlic Chicken Kiev, wild garlic and ricotta ravioli and tempura of wild garlic but things are very much in the developmental stage at moment, i.e. all ideas are currently written down on the back of a beer mat which is in a drawer, somewhere.
A very simple recipe to share in the meantime is wild garlic pesto, which is an absolute humdinger. It is also has pretty big kick and quite frankly it will make your breath stink to high heaven, so make sure your partner or friends also indulge. My son Fin watched me make this once in the past and with wide, eager eyes as I blitzed this everything in the food processor, he constantly bugged with questions such “What was are you doing?” and “Can I have some?” I warned him that it might be a bit too strong for a little boy to taste but Fin was insistent. Cue a minute tip of teaspoon being placed into his mouth, followed by much spitting and wailing and running around. Like I said I did warn him. Strangely enough though when heated through with some pasta, the intensity of the pesto does temper somewhat and Fin always manages to finish his bowlful with no qualms at all.
Getting him to brush his teeth afterwards is another matter.