Not so slim pickings

The weather is continuing to resemble Summer days here for the moment. We’ve had the odd day of rain and grey skies, but all in all, we’ve been making the most of getting out and about this week. The extra hour in the evening has been great. We’ve been able to go for walks after eating our dinner, and have spent a little more time appreciating the evening calm with a few lovely sunsets thrown in for good measure.

The woods are awash with wild garlic at the moment. One of my favourite colours is green, and this little plant offers it up in huge proportions. Even if you don’t know what it is – you may have noticed a carpet of slender, green leaves, if you’ve been in the woods lately. Maybe you happened to identify a pungent garlic smell on the breeze, and weren’t too sure of the source! In French it’s called l’ail des ours (bear garlic!).

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Wild Garlic (allium ursinum)

Wild garlic generally grows in expansive patches, near enough to a water source. Not far from us, is a man made pond (they call ponds or swamps étangs here) in a beautiful spot. It borders the woods and is alimented by a teeny tiny waterfall. There used to be a monks’ hermitage here. It’s not surprising! It’s an area of great calm and the water provides a revitalising energy. I often nip over to this spot if I have a spare fifteen minutes in the day.

Last week we were lucky to have a long evening stretching out ahead of us, so we popped over, as the word was out that there was a bounty of the tasty green garlic leaves for the taking!

Some of us got right down to the job at hand!

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While others concentrated on the prettier things!

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Wood Anemones (anemone nemorosa)

In this spot, there is a little field, where it seems the same donkey has been hanging out for quite a while now. He’s a sociable fella, and likes people to pop up for a chat! However he seems to have gotten well used to a bit of company! It’s a much frequented place, so I suppose he’s become accustomed to the passer-by and a bit of fuss. So much so, that he gets very offended should you not go and say hello first!

Once our girls heard him braying for attention, all our hopes for a helping hand in the harvest were dashed! Donkey got quite a lot of love from our two that evening. Hanging out with him was seemingly much more fun than helping their parents gather wild garlic!

After about half an hour, we had more than enough in our baskets to make a few jars of pesto. So we kicked back and enjoyed the last bit of warmth in the evening sunshine (we said hello to the donkey too!).

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Once we got home, had dinner, and got our little one to bed, it was time to start cleaning the leaves (there is always a lesser liked job!). No matter how careful you are when you gather, there will always be a few rogue leaves of something else in the basket (or a few adventurous spiders!). You wash the leaves, just like you would with salad. It can be quite time-consuming, so when you gather, you need to make sure you’ll have enough time to take care of the leaves. It would be a shame to leave them rotting in a basket!

The leaves have a sharp, zingy, garlic flavour. We usually shred the leaves in a mixer and preserve it in olive oil (in sterilised jars if you’re planning on keeping it for a while). This gives you a nice paste – a perfect base for sauces. A little dollop in soup goes down a treat. A garlic butter can be quickly made with the rich green paste too. If you want to make some pesto you can mix it up with some grated hard cheese. Parmesan is best but there are many cheaper options available. We use Comte cheese. For pesto you would usually use ground pine nuts, but again we make a more economic version with ground almonds. I layered some paste with goat’s cheese (We’re lucky to have a steady supply thanks to our cheese-making friends!). It’s a very versatile staple to have knocking around the kitchen!

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As with anything you gather, you need to be sure of it before ingesting! Wild garlic leaves can be easily confused with the toxic leaves of Lily of the Valley, Muguet in French. Although they don’t grow at the same time, one follows the other, quite literally, as May follows April. So to be safe, make sure you check with someone you trust!

It’s not always easy to make the time to spend simple evenings like this. There are always so many commitments and so much rushing around. When we do get the chance to indulge in a simple pleasure we try to drop the guilt, and put our minds fully to the task at hand. Enjoy it for what it is and it becomes a meditation! Sometimes we need to just stop and smell the wild garlic!

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Feel free to comment…
  • Therese Mc Manus
    April 14, 2015, 12:32

    This is lovely Carmel. You could do a foraging cookbook!

    • April 15, 2015, 5:45

      It’s always satisfying to make something with ingredients you’ve gathered or grown yourself!Maybe I’ll see what else we gather in the year and pop all of the recipes together – who knows!

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