Wild garlic is in season now we are at the Spring Equinox! So I thought I would update the background of the blog to a seasonal wild garlic. Many people in this country are unaware of what to do with wild garlic. Even a chef I met a while ago was unaware of it; even though it grew 600 metres away from his workplace.
The Plant and Harvesting
So what is it like? The photo above shows a clump of wild garlic I have dug up from my herb garden. The main plants are about 3 years old but you can also see seedlings from last year. It tends to grow very densely once established. The bulb is edible but is pretty small - like a cultivated garlic clove - and takes 3 years to develop. Thus wild garlic is mainly used for its leaves which means it can double as a herb and a provider of garlic taste. If you grow it in your garden, it is a waste to harvest the bulbs unless you need to thin them out.
Once established, wild garlic is hard to dislodge from your garden. A friend this morning told me that he has it in several parts of his garden and cannot get rid of it; he does not cook with it so it is a waste! Last year I observed something that is useful if you grow a small patch in your garden.
I noticed that if I cut through the base of the leaf (see above) rather than through the stem, the leaf grew again. The same leaf could be harvested twice. If the leaf was cut through the stem, it would not grow again.
If you gather or grow wild garlic you should taste it for yourself. In my view there is a chive-like foretaste with a garlicky aftertaste after about 5 seconds. Many people who disturb wild garlic in a wood, and get a strong garlicky smell, assume that the taste is very pungent. In my view the taste is on the mild side, especially after the leaves are cooked. It is certainly more subtle than cultivated garlic - especially from last season!
I was made aware of cooking with wild garlic when I lived in Germany. The German word for wild garlic is Bärlauch meaning "bear's garlic". The botanical name allium ursinum and the French name l'ail des ours means the same thing. Apparently when the European brown bear (long extinct in the UK) came out of hibernation, the first thing it would eat, if available, was wild garlic!
Here it is also known as ramson a word that has given rise the the family and place names Ramsdale. It apparently is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word hramsa. The Swedish word ramslök and the German dialect words Räms or Ramsen. Similar to English these dialect words come from the ancient germanic word Hroms.
Using Wild Garlic
Most recipes recommend either washing the leaves and drying them out or blanching them. Washing is common sense unless you want your local woodland or garden in your dish! If you preserve the wild garlic you need the washed leaves to be dry to avoid mould. Sometimes blanching is recommended.
The following recipes can be found elsewhere on the blog:
Blanching the leaves may be useful but also makes the leaves flacid. If you pick the leaves they go flacid over a few hours.
The leaf on the right was picked about 2 hours ago. The one on the left was blanched for just 5 seconds. While the leaves were not the same size (the one on the right was bigger) you see how quickly the blanched leaf goes flacid. In this respect the leaves behave in a similar way to spinach.
This also hints at the fact that very little cooking time is needed when using wild garlic. Like chives or welsh onions it cooks in seconds rather than minutes.
Wild garlic can be preserved in a few different ways:
The leaves can be frozen, but like spinach they defrosted leaves are limp and soggy.
I have tried this out here.
- In Vinegar
I have tried chopping leaves in a food processor then adding cider vinegar. The wild garlic flavours the vinegar but gives it a green colour.
- In Oil
I have preserved wild garlic in rapeseed oil. I used a common vegetable oil rather than olive oil simply because olive oil has a significant taste of its own while other oils are more neutral.
There was a recipe on a German website that worked really well for preserving wild garlic as a paste.
100 g wild garlic leaves
100 ml vegetable oil
5 g salt
1. Wash and dry the wild garlic leaves
2. Chop up the wild garlic leaves and add the salt, leave for 15 min
3. Blend the wild garlic, salt and oil
4. Decant into a preserving jar and top up with oil so that no leaves are exposed to the air
The wild garlic paste can be spooned out for stews or pasta dishes. My batch from last year is still in good condition.
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