Wild garlic raita (and other stories)

There is a lot a chat about foraging these days. TV programs like River Cottage, coverage of restaurants like Noma and general media exposure to the art / habit / way of life of foraging means the idea of heading into the local woods and fields in search of something to cook is fully in our psyche. But how many of us do it regularly? I know I don’t – I spent my childhood picking blackberries from the hedgerows, and my early adulthood sneaking a twig or two of rosemary out of the front yards of my neighbours, but I’m not sure either of those things really count.

So when I was at home-home over the Easter weekend I got my youngest brother (who does forage and do other country things) to take me with him on a hunt for wild garlic (also known as Ramson).

Just as I was thinking my brother had no idea what he was muttering about, I noticed we’d walked past a huge patch of the stuff. He confirmed that he had missed it, but also (firmly) pointed out that this was definitely where he had expected it to be. Sure.

We picked a healthy bunch, without making any particular impact on the area that we took it from, and headed home. The leaves were washed in iced water and those that weren’t used immediately were wrapped in a few sheets of damp paper towels and put in the fridge. They stayed fresh for 3 days.

If you’ve never tried it, the taste of wild garlic is like a cross between garlic and chives; it’s slightly more palatable than eating a raw clove of garlic, but is still pretty pungent. The biggest difference to common garlic is that with the wild stuff, you eat the leaf, not the bulb.

You don’t really need a recipe for any of the things that were rustled up.

Wild garlic raita was Greek yoghurt, finely diced cucumber, salt and pepper and a decent handful of finely chopped wild garlic, with olive oil and larger pieces of wild garlic to garnish … mackerel stuffed with a full wild garlic leaves, thyme, parsley, mint, chives and lemon were grilled on the barbecue and served with samphire, new potatoes and that raita … chopped leaves were dropped with roasted hazelnuts into melted butter and drizzled over (also barbecued) asparagas, along with some flakes of parmesan … I added torn bits into a tomato salad to act as a nice surprise alongside the more typical basil leaves …  the foraged leaves were also used to excellent effect by my little bro seasoning sausage meat for some (very good) Scotch eggs … and he used the bulk of the remaining leaves by chopping and stirring into softened butter so as to make a number of tubes of wild garlic butter … a healthy portion of this was spread between the slices of a baguette, which was wrapped in foil and baked to make great wild garlic bread … and the remaining tubes have been frozen so that discs can be sliced whenever suits and left to melt over tasty trout fillets or, better still, griddled rib-eye steak.

Overkill? Maybe, but a little went a long way and it also made sense to make the most of our harvest.

The wild garlic season won’t be on for too much longer (I saw more this past weekend and, tellingly, many white flowers are now blooming), but have a Google and maybe someone will have suggested foraging spots in your area for whatever is in season when you’re looking at this post (like this site for London). Then leave the glare of your computer screen and go for a wander.

As always, click on the photos to enlarge them and to view in pretty slideshow styleee.

[If you like this post, and the blog more generally, maybe you’d consider voting for me in the Observer Food Monthly awards?  There are some prizes in it for you too.  Just a thought.]