There are three factors that have influenced the writing of this post about wild garlic. Firstly, with the coronavirus scare causing panic and fear, I have had a strong urge this week to be by myself, out in nature, breathing in fresh air and getting as much vitamin D as possible through sunlight on the skin to boost my immune system. There is a wonderful feeling to be found as the garden wakes up from its winter slumber, the rhubarb thrusts its ruby red stalks skyward, and the wild garlic leaves appear.
Secondly, I got issue 85 of Mslexia, the magazine for ‘women who write’, published here in the north-east, Caroline Sanderson’s feature about the pain of writing memoir with interest. In the ‘Writing for Children and Young Adults’ module of the Creative Writing MA I am undertaking at Newcastle University, our tutor has asked us to place ourselves as the protagonist back in the place where we were at the age of which we are writing for. My young adult novel is taking me back late teens, a time which holds many painful memories for me. Alice jolly, who wrote the memoir ‘Dead Babies and Seaside Towns’ wrote that ‘you can’t write a good memoir without spilling blood’, and I am bleeding.
To take a break from the blood-letting, other writing is necessary, and so to preserve my mental health, I return to The Bridge Cottage Way and share my love of foraging and food for free with you.
Lastly, I cleared out the freezer – a job I’ve been putting off for far too long. I found several bags labelled ‘wild garlic pesto 2019’, made this time last year, and in need of being eaten before I make the next batch. It is a heady concoction, full of flavour, that goes splendidly stirred through pasta, with a slice of salmon on the top. (see below for the recipe)
Is wild garlic just a northern thing? It is typically found in sheltered woodland, often near a source of water, and can be recognised by its bright green leaves and pungent smell of garlic when walked on or when the leaves are rubbed. It grows in abundance along the roadside here in Northumberland, under the trees as you drive past Ridley Hall and Allen Banks, and along the bank side of our little burn. The leaves appear first, closely followed by the delicate white flower, as seen here, and wild garlic, or ransoms as it is sometimes known as, can be found growing from March through to June.
The smell of wild garlic for me, is evocative of the day we moved to Bridge Cottage back in early June 2003. As I drove along with a car full of boxes, marvelling at the beauty of the Northumberland countryside, a pungent pong wafted through the car window. It is food for free, and the year’s first foraged crops: seasonal eating at its best.
Here are some suggestions for cooking with wild garlic, The Bridge Cottage Way:
Add a couple of good handfuls of wild garlic to about 200ml of olive oil, a handful of nuts (eg walnuts, cashew or pine nuts), 50g grated parmesan cheese, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp sugar, and blitz in a food processor.
Add your pesto to pasta for a simple but tasty lunch or rub onto chicken. Wild garlic and chicken go very well together.
I like to make several batches and freeze in small bags. There is nothing better in the depths of winter, than to go foraging in the freezer and finding little bags of spring wild garlic pesto to use for lunches.
Wild garlic leaves can be added whole to salads or chopped according to taste. Use instead of spring onions for a mild, oniony taste, but with the added zing of garlic. They make an interesting addition to a cheese sandwich married with a touch of mayonnaise.
Salad dressing can also be made more interesting with finely chopped wild garlic leaves or add to mayonnaise or butter.
In his iconic foraging guide, Food for Free, written many moons ago, Richard Mabey tells us that wild garlic goes handsomely with tomatoes
Richard tells us to ‘take advantage of their size and lay them criss-cross over sliced beef steak tomatoes’. I like to chop them finely and add to chopped tinned tomatoes for a quick and tasty tomato sauce that can go with pasta, or as an accompaniment to fish cakes.
Alternatively, make a simple tomato salsa, by chopping fresh tomatoes with finely chopped wild garlic, and fresh deseeded chilli, and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.
Wild garlic can be used with young nettle tops for a healthy, delicious soup, or for the meat eaters amongst us, simply add to chicken stock and blitz for a delicious wild garlic soup.
I’m off to pick some wild garlic to use tonight with some simple mayonnaise to have with chips.
Happy foraging, and remember, – it’s free food!