As as a forager Spring is now the most exciting time for me. Everything is emerging in small, tender gorgeousness. There is more light, heat and rain to help everything along and there are so many plants that are sweet and soft before they get better ideas of being bitter and tough to avoid being eaten by me. At this time in early spring there is a short window for some special delicacies like hawthorn leaf, catkins, scarlet elf caps and young hogweed. However, there are some that are the queens of spring that will last right through to the summer if you’re lucky – one being wild garlic.
Allium Ursinum, which vaguely translates as bear garlic and is also known as ramsons, is by far one of the simplest and most common greens to forage. It is beautiful, abundant in places and incredibly versatile in it’s culinary application. Think onion, pungent scallion, garlic and leek flavours. In this country it is an ancient woodland plant and it enjoys the company of bluebells and anemones in dark and damp places but also in appears in roadsides and gardens in glossy clusters. Identifying wild garlic is really simple but there are a couple of plants you may mix it up with if you are being very reckless with how you pick such as young arum, bluebell or daffodil leaves. You will know immediately if you put any of these in your mouth that you have picked the wrong thing especially in the case of arum! Use your sense of smell and sight and you can’t go too far wrong. Pick carefully as, like all foraging, you should only take what you need and not uproot the whole plant.
Wild garlic has a long tradition of use in this country. In a brilliant book I am reading by Niall Mac Coitir Ireland’s Wild Plants he discusses how in early Ireland it was a really valued source of food and presumably flavour along with nettles and other spring greens. He also writes that wild garlic bulbs were sometimes planted in the thatch above doorways for good luck and were used during the 1800’s as a salt alternative for seasoning butter. That sounds delicious enough but you can really go all out with this lovely potent green as it cooks, ferments, freezes and dehydrates really well. I’ve experimented a good bit with wild garlic but I know I will keep on finding interesting things to do. These are some very straightforward recipes that I love.
Wild Garlic Shortbread
This is adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe and are by far one of the easiest and most delicious savoury biscuits I have ever made.
Makes 30ish small bites
150 grams plain flour
75 grams grated parmesan
100 grams soft butter
1 large egg yolk
Large handful of wild garlic leaves chopped fairly fine
Mix all of the ingredients together with a spoon or mixer until you get a solid clump of dough. Divide into two or three chunks and then roll into logs about the width of a £2 coin. Wrap in parchment and/or cling film and twist the ends to make a nice neat sausage. Pop into the fridge or freezer for a little while to harden up and preheat your oven to 170°C. Slice into rounds about a centimetre thick and place on parchment or a silicone sheet and bake for about 15 minutes. They should just be a little brown around the edges.
You can also freeze the whole uncooked logs ahead of time and just take them out about and hour or so at room temperature or overnight in the fridge before slicing and baking.
Wild Garlic Foccacia
You can really just add wild garlic where you would use any other herb or onion flavouring such as champ, pesto or on pizza. This recipe from Alexandra’s Kitchen for overnight foccacia is very simple to follow on her website, tastes pretty amazing and can be easily adapted with other wild ingredients or whatever you have in the fridge. I followed her recipe and then added the wild garlic on top just before baking. A little wild garlic oil and vinegar for dipping on the side is pretty delicious with this too.
Fermented Wild Garlic
This one is not so much a recipe but more of a basic and easy guide to extend the life of and transform your wild garlic in a really simple way. If you are already familiar with making sauerkraut or kimchi this is a similar starting process. This is based on a really thorough guide offered by Mark Williams that I recommend reading first if you’re planning on doing lots of fermentation!
Gather and wash three or four large handfuls of wild garlic and gently chop to your own size preference. Weigh and sprinkle over 20g of good quality sea salt for every kilo of greens. In a large bowl massage the salt into the wild garlic for a few minutes and allow to sit for around an hour. You will see quite a lot of liquid leech from the wild garlic as the salt is breaking it down.If you leave your leaves whole you might find you need more time for this to happen. You want to ensure the greens are completely submerged in this green liquid for the next stage so I usually transfer everything into a large jar and use another small sterilised jar to press down on the solids to ensure its totally covered. Allow to sit at room temperature for a week before trying. It should be pickle-ish and have a good umami note when it’s ready but you can continue with more time until whenever you think it tastes good. Once you’re happy, pop it into the fridge. As this sits for a long time it will lose the bright green but still retail a punch of flavour. After some time the residual fermented brine is absolutely delicious and makes a wonderful alternative to soy sauce.
Wild Garlic Capers
These capers can be made with both the unopened flower buds and the seed pods which appear after the flower has been pollinated. I have a personal preference for the seed pods as they have such a brilliant shape and since the flowers are visited by bees and other insects they get a chance to feed too. This recipe can be adapted for large quantities if you have the patience to collect enough buds.
A few handfuls of wild garlic flower buds or seed pods
A large amount of good quality fine sea salt
Enough good quality apple cider vinegar or a vinegar of your choice. I love Natural Umber
Pick through and wash the buds. A little bit of stalk on there is fine as the plant is entirely edible. Dry with paper towels lightly, add to a ceramic or glass bowl and then mix with the salt ensuring that the buds are completely covered. This seems like an excessive amount but the salt can be used again after the process is finished. Cover with a cloth and leave to sit for 3 weeks. In this time the salt will remove some of the moisture from the buds and impart it’s saltiness. After this time, shake off the salt and then rinse the buds under water. Allow to dry a little and then add to a sterilised jar of vinegar. You can add some black peppercorns or other spices to add some more interest. These are best after a few weeks and will last for months.
Wild Garlic Ketchup
This recipe came from wanting to serve a condiment with a pastry at a foraging event I held this month. I wanted to serve some wild garlic but in a totally different way. This seemed to be quite successful and was a hit among those who attended the walk.
Makes about 400ml
4 sticks of celery chopped
6 scallions chopped
1 tablespoon of oil
a large handful of three-cornered leek
100g greens such as nettles, chard or spinach
2 handfuls of chopped sorrel
300g of wild garlic
2 tablespoons of honey
2 tablespoons of vinegar – I used kombucha as it’s what I had but cider vinegar or white wine vinegar would also work
In a large pan heat the oil on low and add the celery and scallions with a pinch of salt and saute wthout colour until they are both soft and translucent. Add the wild leek and greens and cook until they are well wilted and soft. If it’s looking a bit dry add a little water then the sorrel and wild garlic and cook very briefly until just softened. You don’t want to overcook the wild garlic as it will loose its pungent flavour.
Once soft use a blender to blitz this all together until smooth. If, like me, your blender is not very powerful you might want to pass this through a sieve for a really smooth texture. Put your blended mixture back on a low heat, add the honey and vinegar and check the flavour for seasoning. If it needs a little more honey or a little more vinegar adjust to your own taste. Pour into a clean jar or bottle and leave to cool before using. This is quite a fresh condiment so I recommend keeping it in the fridge and using it within a couple of weeks. I think this would be great with a bit of heat so so feel free to add some fresh or dried chilli to give it a kick too.
For more wild garlic adventuring this season you can follow me on Instagram here @Claremcqq.