The wild garlic is as abundant this year as ever. It carpets the woodland floors and lines many of the shaded roadside verges. Open the car window on a sunny afternoon or stumble over a patch on a walk, and its scent is almost instantly noticeable. Here on the smallholding, we are lucky enough to have a supply of our very own by the edges of the stream.
We make the most of the wild garlic leaves while they are in season. A few handfuls whizzed into a soup alongside frozen garden peas and chicken stock. Wilted into a sizzling pan of golden chestnut mushrooms, tumbled onto sourdough toast, and topped with a poached egg for brunch. A colander of the bright green leaves cooked gently in butter until they have shrunk into a soft shadow of their former selves and served on the side of paper-steamed fish, boiled potatoes and homemade mayonnaise. Or scattered onto the pastry base of a wild garlic, nettle, dandelion and goose egg tart . Simple, fresh, spring flavours.
The arrival of the tear drop wild garlic flower pods, striped ever so faintly in shades of green and white, bring with them yet more culinary opportunity. The tiny white flower buds, removed from their waxy pods and suspended in a mix of apple cider vinegar and sugar, make an amazing two in one pickle and vinegar infusion that is packed with sweet and sour flavour.
We pick the wild garlic flower heads just as a little split appears on the side of the pod, indicating that the tiny flowers inside are fully formed. We peel open the pods, separate the individual flower buds all in one go by pinching off the little green flower stalks at the base, and collect them in a jar. The pickling solution is a basic 3:1 mix of apple cider vinegar and granulated sugar, gently warmed to dissolve the sugar, and cooled again before being pouring over the flowers.
The pickled wild garlic flower buds are ready to use after a week and should keep for around a year (until wild garlic season starts again). We have found a multitude of uses for them in the kitchen. Here are some of our favourite ways to cook with them:
• Add a teaspoon or two of the pickled wild garlic flowers to pan fried greens (chard, spinach, and kale in particular) at the very end of cooking
• Scatter a pinch of the flowers over a bowl of soup, or a chicken and noodle broth just before serving
• The pickling liquor, which takes on the wonderful flavour of wild garlic, can be whisked into a dressing with a little oil and drizzled over salad leaves.
• And (perhaps our absolute favourite): dice a couple of medium potatoes into tiny cubes and fry them in a tablespoonful or two of clarified butter (ghee) over a high heat on the stovetop along with some shredded sage leaves and plenty of sea salt and pepper. Once the potatoes are cooked through and golden brown, stir in 2-3 teaspoons of the wild garlic flowers in their pickling juice and warm through for a couple of minutes before serving to make an extremely moreish side dish.
Pickled Wild Garlic Flower Buds
- wild garlic flower pods
- 3 parts apple cider vinegar, ideally raw and unpasteurised
- 1 part granulated sugar
Choose a clean glass jar that will be the right size to hold the amount of wild garlic flowers you have picked. Combine a 3:1 ratio (of an amount that will be enough to fill your chosen jar) of apple cider vinegar and sugar in a saucepan and warm over a very gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool.
Remove and separate the individual wild garlic flowers from their pods by splitting open the pod and pinching off the little green flower stalks at the base, then put the flower buds in the glass jar (they should fill it to just below the brim).
Cover the flower buds completely with cooled pickling solution.
Seal the jar and leave it for a week, gently agitating it every day or two by gently tipping the jar upside down and back again. The pickled wild garlic flower buds should keep for up to a year.
We are always extra careful when foraging ingredients for cooking. We never pick anything that we can’t identify and, if unsure, we consult the advice of our guide books. We particularly like the River Cottage handbooks, by John Wright, who pens his words in a way that is easy to understand, knowledgeable, and full of good humour. River Cottage Handbook Number 7: Hedgerow, covers wild garlic identification. Luckily wild garlic is a really easy plant to identify and comes in plentiful quantity at this time of year. However, our wild garlic grows close by to the poisonous hemlock water-dropwort and lords and ladies plants, and although the leaves look very different, a lapse in concentration when picking could make dinner time most unpleasant, so we always exercise extreme caution.