Anyone who has wondered down to the River Esk over the past few weeks cannot have helped noticing the smell of wild garlic along the path. Having been given a copy of ‘The Forager’s Kitchen‘ by Fiona Bird last year for my Birthday, I was inspired to test out my culinary skills with this seasonal ingredient, which can be found in such abundance on our doorstep.
I had not realised that there were several different varieties of wild garlic and at least two by the banks of the Esk. The classic ‘Wild Garlic’ (Allium ursinum), which also goes by the name of ‘Ramps’, ‘Ramsons’, ‘Buckrams’, ‘Rams’ or ‘Bear Leek’ is a relative of Chives and has broader garlicky smelling leaves with umbels of while star-like flowers. However there is also the ‘Few-flowered’ Leek or Garlic (Allium paradoxum), which is an Asian species of Wild Onion in the Amaryllis family. This has narrower leaves, triangular stems and single white flowers and is a more invasive species.
Both species are edible and can be chopped finely and used in place of garlic. They are great in pesto or blended with butter to make garlic butter, which tasted delicious rubbed over roast chicken. Here is Fiona Bird’s recipe for Minted Pea and Wild Garlic Soup.
Minted Pea & Wild Garlic Soup
100g wild garlic stalks
1 tablespoon olive oil
Knob of butter
275g scrubbed new potatoes
1 litre vegetable stock
150g freshly shelled peas
3 mint leaves, finely shredded
Freshly ground black pepper
A handful of wild garlic flowers
Wash and finely slice the wild garlic stalks. Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan and cook the stalks over a low heat for 1 minute. Cut the new potatoes into small pieces and cook with the stalks for another 1–2 minutes, stirring often. Add 800ml of the stock and bring to the boil. Cover the pan and simmer for 8–10 minutes until the potatoes are soft. Add the peas and mint, and simmer for another 3 minutes to cook the peas. Remove the pan from the heat, and allow it to cool for a minute. Blend the peas and potatoes in a food processor, and return to the pan, or use a hand blender. Use the remainder of the stock to rinse around the food processor bowl, and add enough to the saucepan to reach the desired consistency. Heat over low heat to warm through, season with freshly ground pepper, and serve in warm bowls. Scatter the wild garlic flowers over the soup just before serving. If you wish, decorate with a swirl of crème fraîche.
The Forager’s Kitchen by Fiona Bird, published by CICO Books (£16.99)
– Becca Duncan