Tuesday May 11th 2010, 8:32 pm

wild garlic freshly foraged in May

Right now, wild garlic seems to be the best thing since sliced bread. It is extraordinary that it has become such a fashionable ingredient and that people consider it somehow wacky and daring to make use if it. This poses the question, why has such a wonderful herb been overlooked for so long. Belonging to the allium family, once established in a habitat that meets its requirements, it grows prolifically forming a lush carpet of smooth pointed leaves, later topped with delicate white flowers for about 6-8 weeks in the spring. Right now, round here, it is looking just perfect and there’s loads of the stuff. It is growing in abundance all around the little chapel just a hop skip and jump from my house so I am doing my best to make the most of it.

wild garlic grows profusely once established

In fact wild garlic is a really useful plant and all of its parts are edible. Someone told me today of a local ‘professional’ forager who when the flowers go over and set their seed goes round with a little portable vacuum cleaner and hoovers them up. He sells them to top restaurants for grinding as a seasoning. The flowers can be added to salads, the bulbs can be pickled and the leaves can be used to bring their delicious flavour to stir fries and of course pesto. Anyone who hasn’t tried wild garlic is missing a trick. Here is a recipe for wild garlic pesto, which might get you started on your own daring food journey. Watch out Ray Mears!

wild garlic flowers in May


Makes about 350g

100g wild garlic leaves
60g parmesan cheese or a similar hard cheese (I like this vegetarian one )
60g pinenuts
120ml cold pressed rapeseed oil or virgin olive oil (I’ve been using this one )
salt and pepper

Wash and dry the garlic leaves using a salad spinner or patt them dry with kitchen towel. Grate the cheese finely in a food processor then tip out into a bowl. Lightly roast the pine nuts to heighten their flavour taking great care not to overdo it or they’ll burn. Wizz the nuts in the food processor to grind them then add the cheese and half the leaves roughly torn. Blend till the leaves are finely chopped then add the rest of the leaves and blitz again. With the processor running, drizzle the oil into the pesto until it is all added and combined. Season with salt and pepper and pour into a sterilised jar for keeping in the fridge. By pouring some extra oil over the surface it should keep for a few weeks. A couple of spoonfuls stirred into linguine is just perfect and topped with a handful of chargrilled asparagus and a few Parmesan shavings makes it heaven on a plate.
You can freeze pesto, so that is the best way to extend the season for this delicious sauce. I have seen it written to leave out the cheese before freezing, but as Parmesan freezes well, I don’t think that is necessary. I have taken to freezing single portions of pesto in individual plastic containers and right now my freezer is looking well stocked.

wild garlic pesto ready for the freezer

Friday March 14th 2008, 6:30 pm

Edward Bawden illustration for Good Food 1932

I went up north for a few days last week and made sure to visit the car boot sale in Preston whilst I was there. It is the best sort of car boot, in so far as there is always so much total rubbish on sale that it fills you with optimism that a bargain is just waiting to be found in one of the grubby house clearance boxes.
I only bought 3 old cookery books but felt that my rummaging time was time well spent. One of the books, Good Food by Ambrose Heath, is an absolute corker. Unfortunately, it long ago lost its dust jacket (which I would love to see) and from the outside it seems quite uninspiring, battered linen, aged and discoloured beige, but inside is such a treat. It is often said that nothing is new and this book clearly proves the point. It is set out month by month with recipes using seasonal produce and rather than the recipes being laid out in the usual manner it has running text with the recipe headings written in the margins. A bit like Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. I bet you anything that in the editorial meeting when they came up with the format for Nigella’s book they thought they were being groundbreaking. In fact they were pipped to the post by 70 years, Good Food was published in 1932.

Good Food by Ambrose Heath 1932

To make the book even more fabulous it is illustrated by Edward Bawden, with an image to represent each month as well as some smaller incidental images of cooking implements and produce. If only it still had its dust jacket, I imagine that would be really special. Of course now I am on Ambrose Heath alert and am looking out for more of his books. Apparently he was a very prolific cookery writer (1891-1969) and wrote around 100 books on just about every food subject and ingredient under the sun. I would particularly like to see ‘Open Sesame – The Way of a Cook With a Can’ published in 1939 (sorry Delia, he beat you too it).
Anyway, keen to try out some of his recipes I spotted one for Orange Jumbles, which are a flat sprawling biscuit made with flaked almonds and orange rind and juice. I am getting ahead of myself here as they are in the April chapter but as we can usually find oranges of some kind all-year-round and recipes with funny names are always a good thing then why not?. I decided to experiment and have had to make them a few times to get the recipe right – hard work but somebody had to do it. I have substituted some of my Seville marmalade as an ingredient, missed out cochineal, who on earth uses that these days, and they seem to have worked out pretty well. Ambrose didn’t seem to believe in molly-coddling his readers and the recipes are suitably vague on technique.
Of the Orange Jumbles he writes, ‘To say that they are indescribably charming really describes them’. If I wasn’t so busy eating my way through a plate of jumbles I’d say ‘I couldn’t agree more’.
Here’s my recipe for Marmalade Jumbles.

Edward Bawden illustration for Good Food 1932