A Pretty Pickle
On Saturday I was crouched under some trees picking Wild Garlic in a little woodland not far from my home when a voice called out “Excuse me! Hi! What are you doing?” I turned round to see a woman standing on the path. I slowly extricated myself from my fragrant surroundings and walked towards her, holding open my carrier bag of wild garlic flower buds and regaling the virtues of my aromatic finds. “You know” she said, while gesticulating with her cigarette and leaning against her wheelie bin, “20 years ago, those used to grow in my garden, but there reached a point where they were driving me crazy so I dug them up and dumped them under that tree there. They were in my rockery and every time I walked past, all I could smell was the garlic; it was a bit much. And now here you are picking them!”
The Guerilla Garlic
After years of foraging, I wonder sometimes where the plants I harvest from have come from. Was the redcurrant bush planted by a bird? A long tailed tit perhaps with a penchant for berries. And what about those blackberries that were so much larger and sweeter than any other wild blackberries I’ve seen before or since? Were they maybe prunings from a domesticated variety that some sneaky gardener pitched by the side of the playing fields when they ran out of room in their compost heap? I will never know. But I do know that a rather lovely lady who was tired of her garden ponging of garlic was responsible for this fantastic patch of wild garlic that I now get to enjoy.
Eating Cherry Blossom on a Walk
Those of you who follow me on Twitter @MushrooMina may have seen the very interesting discussion I’ve been having with fellow concerned foragers from all over the world about this unassuming plant. Apparently, its relative, Wild Leek, is listed on the Ontario Food Terminal Board, which is like a stock exchange for fruits & veg. How much of it needed to be traded for it to be listed there? The success of foraging scares me slightly. Yes, it is good that more people are educated about wild food. Speaking from personal experience, I have become much more connected to nature and am more in tune with the seasons and what’s going on around me since I started foraging. Suddenly, food is not just something I buy from the supermarket, but something that I engage with directly, and my ability to continue harvesting is predicated on my good stewardship of those valuable resources. So surely it would be good if everyone thought this way? Definitely. So does it not then follow that the increase in foraging can only be a good thing? Not necessarily.
Field of Food?
For all those ethical foragers out there, there are also unscrupulous ones to whom nature’s bounty is nothing more than their own personal treasure chest. Countless times I have seen people on foraging forums who turn up and say with pride how they have just picked (in one case) 30kgs of wild mushrooms in one weekend. Such people inevitably find themselves hounded off the forums but nonetheless, these ecologically disastrous practices continue.
Omg! Beefsteak Fungus!
Since I started leading wild food walks, I have taught somewhere in the region of 1000 people how to identify wild foods. That is a phenomenal number. And almost all of my walks have taken place in Leeds. If all those people then went out and ravaged the countryside, I don’t think I’d be able to live with myself. But when I go out foraging, I still find lots of wonderful mushrooms and plants to enjoy. Yes occasionally (as we did at yesterday’s walk) I will see where silly people have just snipped entire patches of wild garlic clear (I like to think they were not taught foraging by me). But for all those silly people, there are countless more who will pick only what they can process, eat or preserve, who leave some behind for other foragers to enjoy and who share their stories and finds with friends, family, and strangers they meet in the woods and bond with over wicker baskets and thermoses of tea.
Can I have some more Please?
So I for one will not lose hope. I will continue to teach everyone who comes on to my walks how important it is to tread lightly on the earth, how they should never pick more than they need, never dig up plants by the root, never pick unknown mushrooms speculatively on the off chance they got an edible one, never pick more than 20% of the leaves or flowers from one plant, and never touch the only specimen of a wild plant they find anywhere.
I will continue to meet the wonderful wonderful people who come on my walks and share my knowledge with them. And in exchange, they tell me how they never knew that you could eat yarrow and had only ever used it to do I-Ching readings, how they used the sap from dandelions to their cure warts and that you can freeze flowers in ice cubes to make lovely additions to summery drinks. I believe that through knowledge, education and practice will come an increased love and respect for the bounties of nature.
So long live foragers!
I was also asked what you can do with wild garlic so here are a few ideas:
Wild Garlic Omlette
1. Blitz it in the food processor with lots of olive oil and use in all your cooking. Kept in a jar, as long as oil covers the leaves they won’t go off.
2. Drizzle wild garlic paste over veg, roast for 30 minutes at 180C before adding slices of Halloumi cheese and turning the heat up to 200C for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is golden
3. Chop a handful of wild garlic leaves, mix with 2 small punnets of cherry tomatoes and some chicken thighs, season with salt and pepper and place in a casserole dish with a lid. Bake for 35-40 minutes at 180C. The tomatoes melt and make the most divine sauce over the moist, succulent chicken.
4. Slather a chicken or mutton/beef joint with the paste before roasting or smoking until tender
Home Smoked Chicken and Wild Garlic Sandwiches
5. Spread the paste over your sandwiches or make green omlettes
6. Feed some to your chickens and watch them gobble it up.
Remember to never dig up Wild Garlic by the root, only use the leaves, and harvest no more than two leaves from each plant.
I would also like to share with you today my cherished recipe for pickled wild garlic flower buds. We will be serving these at our next supper club on the 25th of May and they are truly delicious. This recipe is the evolution of a conversation I had with my dear friend Carol who is a truly amazing forager. She said that she had read in ‘The Urban Dweller’s Country Almanac’ (A book I now own a copy of) that you could pickle elderflower buds. She experimented and told me the process to make it, which I then adapted an present to you here. Do give it a go and let me know how it turns out for you!
Pickled Wild Garlic Flower Buds
2 litres of white wine vinegar
2 dried chillies
Put all ingredients in a pot with a lid and bring to the boil. As soon as they have reached a rolling boil, remove from the heat and leave to cool completely before pouring into a clean bottle.
Pickled Wild Garlic Flower Buds
Weigh your flower buds. The quantity of vinegar above will cover 800g of flower buds so measure out an appropriate amount of vinegar back into the pot with the lid and add you flower buds. Bring to a roiling boil and immediately remove from the heat. Strain out your buds and leave the two to cool completely separately. If they cool together, they will overcook and go mushy. You want them to retain their crunch.
Spoon your buds into a clean jar and add enough of the vinegar to cover them completely. You may need to use some of your reserved pickling vinegar. The remaining vinegar can be stored in a bottle until you next want to pickle things. Off the top of my head, ash keys, elderflower buds, dandelion flowers (both buds and open), mushrooms and coltsfoot flowers all make excellent pickles.
Remember that you can experiment with adding different spices and herbs to your vinegar. This is what I like but you can also add garlic cloves, chilli flakes, star anise, cloves, juniper berries, allspice, the list is endless! Some people who’ve tried this pickle found it a bit too acidic. You can tone this down by adding sugar to your pickling vinegar or diluting the vinegar slightly with water. Just keep tasting your vinegar into its perfect for you!