May 04

Wild garlic

It’s bluebell time. Which means we’re late for wild garlic. For me, wild garlic is the easiest and most worthwhile of foraged foods. It is almost a family tradition for us to collect wild garlic at Easter but due to some sad events in the family, we didn’t get out. Today we did and, although the garlic was blooming away as prettily as the bluebells, the recent wet weather meant the leaves were still juicy and plentiful.

Wild garlic woods

Some people enthuse about the bulbs but it is the improbable greenness of the leaves that impresses me…and they are hardly lacking in flavour or aroma. As children my sister and I would regularly play with friends in the woods below our house in County Durham. In season, the floor of these woods was infested with endless mops of wild garlic. Their waxy but succulent leaves easily sheared, smearing children with an oily garlic sap. The slightest whiff of wild garlic at 50 paces these days takes me straight back to childhood and, I fancy, the stench of us returning home from those woods at tea time.

Wild garlic

I never ate it until I was grown up. Out of curiosity – and ignorance – I chose something called baerlauchsuppe off a menu in a strand hotel at Usedom on the Baltic coast of Germany. I knew what I’d ordered as soon as it arrived at the table, despite the decoy of a pealed crevette sailing a toast boat across the deep green sea. This touch was both beautiful and a stroke of genius in flavour.

Attempts to recreate the intensity of colour and flavour in that soup fell frustratingly short but the  key factors seem to be large volumes of the leaves, perhaps blended with some watercress for a deeper flavour and a good hearty stock. Using light fish stock might be a pleasing twist…might even be the missing factor…perhaps to be tried this year.

With our busy lives, we usually end up cutting some finely and folding into cream cheese or goats cheese. A wild garlic risotto is an easy midweek delight.  The fresh leaves keep in the fridge for some days.

It’s so much softer a taste than bulb garlic and garlic does go well with so much. Is there any other seasonal ingredient that we have so badly failed to use to it’s full potential?