There’s a lane I often wander down on the school run, its winding track cutting through the folds of the land. Coppiced ancient trees sit high on the banks either side with their branches stretching like fingers to reach each other, creating an ever darkening tunnel at this time of year. The banks start to change colour from a russet brown to a vibrant green as March approaches. Wide tapering tongues of lush leaves push ever upwards to completely cover the ground and surrounding woodland. The earthy sweet aroma fills the air and couldn’t be mistaken for anything else, evoking memories of sun kissed holidays and laughter. Wild garlic or Allium ursinum, nature’s springtime bounty.
This woodland plant grows so happily and vigorously in the dappled, damp shade almost to the exclusion of everything else, as wild garlic is never conscious of having neighbours! From the green clumps emerge pale green pods like spikes that open out into star encrusted globes of white flowers.
Every part of this intriguing woodland plant is edible and finds favour in home kitchens and many a top restaurant. The idea of foraging for food is an ancient one. I remember as a child finding a book at home entitled ‘Food For Free’ by Richard Mabey. I was fascinated with the idea of potentially being surrounded by food on a walk in the countryside!
I by no means do foraging as much as I should, but there are always a few seasonal favourites that can’t be ignored. They mark the seasons and the passing of the year through nature’s harvest. My favourite recipe for wild garlic has to be a simple pesto which is easily added to cooked pasta.
To make a wild garlic pesto simply take,
150g wild garlic leaves washed and very roughly chopped
50g toasted pine nuts
50g finely grated parmesan cheese
1 fresh garlic clove
100ml olive oil
Squeeze of lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Assemble all ingredients
Thoroughly wash and roughly chop the garlic leaves
Add all the dry ingredients into a food processor and ‘pulse ‘adding the olive oil as you go until you have a finely chopped paste. Add a little more oil for a less dense consistency, season to taste with lemon and sea salt.
Mix as required into cooked pasta and enjoy.
This culinary delight of the spring landscape can be easily distinguished from other plants by its garlic scented leaves when crushed. So next time you happen to walk down a winding track through a woodland glade in springtime, pay attention to your senses for the smell of garlic really can be found in the British countryside!