Blogs >> From The Schumacher Kitchen: Wild Garlic

From The Schumacher Kitchen: Wild Garlic

Wild Garlic

From The Schumacher Kitchen  

The Wild World Of Garlic


Students listening to Satish in our outdoor class room at the Postern were today surrounded by oceans of wild garlic (Alium ursinum).  Deep green tapering leaves oozing with the vibrant anti-oxidants and bio-flavanoids that characterise much of Spring's early growth - ours to be harvested moderately and blended into pestos or torn into salads filled with other scintillating leaves from our College polytunnels; rocket, mizuna, mustard etc.

Wild Garlic can provide a munch-while-you walk mouthful on a country walk, but be careful you always select the right leaf.  Avoid anything that looks at all wolf-like; the wrinkled face and 'wolf-ears' rising up on either side of the stem could well mean this leaf is not wild garlic at all but rather the poisonous leaf of 'Lords and Ladies' (Arum maculatum) which can often be found growing alongside ramsons, (as wild garlic is commonly known). As a precaution, always smell wild garlic before you eat it to check for the distinctive garlicky smell.  Avoid picking wild garlic if it is growing alongside country lanes or roads to make sure it is really fresh and pure - uncontaminated by exhaust from cars or dogs.

Another thing to bear in mind when using wild garlic is that it is really very strong so when using it fresh in a pesto, you may wish to mellow the effect by combining it with another leaf such as young beech leaves, lemony sorrel or rocket from your green house. Quickly scaulded or sautéed nettle can also be used to moderate the garlicky impact of ramsons in a pesto. Nettle is another nutritious wild plant that is showing itself with the beginning of spring, and its sting can be removed by a little cooking.  If using nettle, select the tender top leaves, and, as with wild garlic, harvest before the plant starts to flower.   

When it comes to cooking with wild garlic a lot more can be included in any dish as the garlic flavour is much diminished when heated - for example by being chopped  and stirred through pasta in a pasta-carbonara style dish, or by being added to a quiche alongside cream, cheese and eggs.

When making a pesto try using soaked nuts or seeds to revitalise this protein source and give an added nutritional bonanza to your mixture.   A pesto made to taste with a blend of nuts or seeds (100g), leaves (150g), olive oil (100ml) and perhaps a grated hard cheese (50g) such as parmesan or a hard sheep or goat cheese (and a little seasoning of lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste), can also be rolled up in a bread dough which is then cut to form "pesto pinwheels".  These can be placed together and baked - a bit like a savoury version of a Chelsea bun!

One note of caution.  Enjoy the wild garlic season for the month or so that it lasts, but don't try and make it last forever by freezing or preserving the wild garlic in oil.  We had a very unfortunate experience in the Schumacher freezer once when wild garlic frozen in a plastic bag next to a lemon tart imparted the whole top layer of the tart with a garlic flavour, which then had to be scraped off!   Our preserving efforts were not worth it for a green vegetable that lost much of its unique impact as soon as it was cooked or left to age.  So, the message is, once the bluebells and brambles take over from the wild garlic let go of it until the next year - but don't forget that hedge garlic will soon be on its way! 

(Julia's recipe for "Spring Pesto" features in our most recent college cookbook Gaia's Feasts, published in September 2014.  Gaia's Kitchen, its 'prequel', contains a recipe for regular basil pesto, which can also be adapted to include wild garlic.)