Its always a sad sight to see the wild garlic disappear, the most versatile ingredient of the wild larder never sticks around too long, probably it’s own fault for being too keen jump out at the first inkling of spring. The reason it is so wonderful as a wild ingredient is the way in which it presents garlic in such a different form to the norm: there are at least 5 different parts to make use through out its short time here.
The Bulbs- If you know where it grows (although technically you shouldn’t dig up the roots- doesn’t stop people rinsing Burdock, dandelion and silverweed…) As long as you know it is in profusion- why not? Stick in a jar of olive oil. Bosh.
The leaves- Fantastic as a salad vegetable and certainly the mildest part of the plant, useful finely chopped as a punchy garnish.
The stalk- can be used like chives, or even pickled.
Flower pods and flowers- again, attractive garnish but a tad sharper than the leaves.
Finally we come to the final stages as the leaves turn yellow and this super little plant threatens to run to seed- now this is the time to get stuck in! Before the flowers develop into small black, well…seeds, you get something that vaguely resembles a Martian’s wedding tackle (not that I have ever had the pleasure). It may sound odd, but feasible: three green balls and a tiny white needle of a tallywhacker…you see my point?!
Right about now the seed pods are developing, if you pluck one and bite down on it, a burst of garlic juice will exude from the pod, handing over it’s final gift before it disappears until the following spring. I have been playing about with trying to preserve various parts of the plant: dehydrating the leaves worked well, putting the bulbs in olive oil was also a success. Pickling the leaves was pants, yet the flower pods (before they opened) were delightfully accommodating in vinegar…but I have never played with the young seedpods before.
So off I trundled to gather some, before it was too late (you have about a week or two left!). Despite being about 3 weeks late this year, summer has suddenly burst on to the scene: ash was not out before oak so we hopefully we won’t be in for a soak and thankfully I haven’t been plagued by caterpillars like last year (something to do with not living in a wood methinks).
On my short trot down to the usual patch of wild garlic which I harvest every year, I was slightly startled by a bounding muntjac flying over the hedge, nothing new there….but thank goodness I was re-living my London streetwalking days with eyes firmly to the floor (don’t look up…you might get stabbed! Only joking! But seriously…) had I not then I would certainly have planted a size 9 imprint across the face of the little fellow!
It was rather comic in retrospect- the way in which I was mid stride and then leapt out of shock mid-stride was more Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks than wild man of the woods! The little chap simply sat where he was in the long grass of the meadow and didn’t move a muscle, I avoided touching him, despite being the perfect size for my rucksack (even though muntjac is on the wish list, taste test another time. My filthy human scent would prevent his ma ever going near him again), and instead whipped out the camera to snap off a few shots. It was only when I attempted to get some face to face that he (or she…not sure) decided something was up and that despite my bedraggled appearance, I was clearly not one of the parental unit, took off at remarkable speed straight into my leg, fell over and continued in a more practical direction of escape.
Anyway, yes, wild garlic pods…but a bit of hip-hop first.
The hedgerow next to my preferred gathering patch was a tangled mass of hops ripe for the plucking, so I couldn’t resist grasping a fistful for supper. Hop shoots formed an essential part of my diet in the tree house, they accompanied almost every meal, usually steamed to preserve their delightful nutty flavour- do NOT boil them! One of the nice things about Sussex is the fact that hops adorn nearly every hedgerow in the county, probably more so in Kent but they are probably escapees of the cultivated variety. Other than Pliny scoffing them 2000 years ago, the pruning of the hop farms back in the day was when hop shoots become a popular part of the diet for many a hop farm labourer- food for free!
A strange plant indeed, hops are actually part of the cannabis family, but unlike it’s nefarious cousin doesn’t contain any THC and would be unlikely to tickle the head into a haze, but probably very good at giving you a bastard behind the eyes. If its inebriation you seek rather than culinary pleasure- a pint of ale will deliver all the hoppy goodness you could want! I used them to flavour my first brew (dry hopping) and the result was astounding: have a look at an earlier post on my beer making here.
Garlic pods are easy to harvest in volume, first pick a load of heads, but move around the patch a bit to give the seeds a chance once they develop. Back home, the next stage is to remove the pods: this requires some technical equipment- a four pronged eating iron used to spear morsels on a plate and a spherical receptacle often used for liquid based produce. The trick is to bunch together the flower stalks and slip the fork behind the pods, before pushing them into a bowl. Easy.
I used the pods in two different ways:
Garlic butter: simply pound the pods in a pestle & mortar with a good scoop of salted butter and a generous twist of black pepper. Use it to smear on a French stick for garlic bread, or better- wrap a bundle of steamed hop shoots and eat in one- an exquisite hit of wild food (perhaps even better in batter and deep fried till golden!)
Pickled: To preserve the punchy hit of wild garlic for those dark winter days when you wish to savour a slice of summer, simply strip a bunch of pods into a jam jar and heat up some vinegar, a teaspoon of mustard seeds and a sprig of rosemary in a pan (enamel is best) but do NOT bring to the boil, at the first hint of a bubble on the base of the pan- remove from the heat and pour over the pods, allow to cool and then seal. I used my pine needle vinegar I made a few months ago (see post here), as it has a similar taste to balsamic, should work a treat, will let you know in a few weeks time!
So there you have it- get out there and get creative with some wild garlic before its too late! I am quite keen to collect some actual seeds and make an interesting pepper mix, might be worth a shot. What else is going on? Book stuff is going well, and I have found that the best way to increase book sales is to buy a shit-load of them yourself…and then go peddle them with the offer of a signature which can probably only serve to de-value said book! Having said that I have had a few requests for signed copies- Giles in Tel Aviv take note! I am planning to stick some on EBay, so if anyone is interested do please email me (see contact on blog).
And I think I am slowly getting there with the portable tree house, perhaps not as glamorous as the last one…but certainly brings out the Tarzan within!