Itching to get the season started despite winter’s reluctance to release its grip, I was pleased to come across a recipe for wild garlic pesto during March. Wild garlic really comes into season from the end of January to April so it was something I could forage when everything in the hedgerow was still sleeping.
Wild garlic tends to grow in damp woodland, often under oak or beech trees. Indeed, it is something I've always come across at Easter when we go up to Lancashire to visit my mother-in-law, where it grows in abundance. When walking through woodland, you become aware of it first because you suddenly find yourself enveloped in the garlicky aromas of the newly emerged leaves. Then, a few weeks after the leaves first appear, hundreds of tiny white flowers cover the woodland floor.
Knowing that it grows in abundance in Lancashire meant that I was somewhat surprised when I asked my husband where in Milton Keynes would be a good place for us to go and pick some. He looked at me blankly and said he didn't know. Then, searching around the internet, I discovered that wild garlic, or ransoms as they are also known, are in fact locally rare in Buckinghamshire. I’m not entirely sure why this should be the case – probably a matter of underlying geology and soil type. However, it gave me pause for thought. If it was rare, should I pick it at all?
Usually, the types of things I forage are in huge abundance – dandelions, elderflowers, blackberries and crabapples. Taking a few of these for my own use seems perfectly fine because it doesn’t make a dent in their supplies and there are plenty left for anyone else who would wish to forage too. I wouldn’t dream of taking anything if I thought it would spoil the enjoyment of others.
So what to do?
Well, I reviewed the law of foraging on the internet and discovered that I was within my rights to take any non-protected species of fungus, foliage, fruit or flower from open access, non-protected, land for non-commercial consumption. Indeed, it is a matter of common sense – you don’t take the whole plant and you don’t take all that is there.
With a bit more determined search I discovered that wild garlic does indeed grow in a small number of locations within Milton Keynes. One of these is a protected wildlife site so taking from there would not be acceptable but in the other areas the ransoms grow in abundance and to such an extent that it’s just not possible to pick the whole lot even if you wanted to. So, on Good Friday, we went for a family walk and filled two small sandwich bags with leaves (the 100g required for the recipe), and later I made the pesto. Then the next day, following the idea from the Tiny Bakery, I mixed a small amount of it into bread dough to make wild garlic bread – delicious. As only a small amount of pesto is required in any recipe, I think my jar full will last for quite a few weeks and I can confidently say that I left plenty still growing should anyone else get the urge to go foraging!
Wild Garlic Pesto
100g freshly picked wild garlic leaves
50g pine nuts
200 ml olive oil
50-60g finely grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon sugar
Place the wild garlic, shallot and pine nuts in a food processor along with 150 ml oil. Blitz for about a minute until finely chopped. Fold in the grated cheese, salt and sugar. Pack into a clean jar, pressing down firmly with the back of a spoon then top up with oil so that it is fully submerged beneath the oil. Place in the refrigerator. It will keep for several weeks if you top up with a covering of oil each time you use it. It can also be frozen in small batches.
It can be used in any recipe where you might use garlic. A few teaspoonfuls can be added to bread dough at the knocking back stage to make wild garlic bread. Half a tablespoon mixed with cubed pieces of bread and then baked for 10 minutes make very tasty croutons. It can also be added to pizzas and pasta. This week I mixed a teaspoonful into the dough for our family-sized pizza, and tonight I mixed half a teaspoon into some mushrooms to make garlic mushrooms. It is proving to be a very handy ingredient.