Little tells me more forcefully than a walk through the woods at this time of year that we are back in England. Instead of crisp brown leaves underfoot, from the Autumn before and the Autumn before that, there are narrow damp paths through the rich carpet of undergrowth.
And that smell! As you walk, inevitably bruising the leaves that crowd onto your path, you’ll smell the pungent notes of garlic: because those leaves, topped off by a mass of star-shaped flowers, are wild garlic (or ransoms, ramps or bear’s garlic), and they’re unknown in the part of France where we lived. In among, competing for the sun which dapples in through the tree canopy, are bluebells. At the moment, they’re largely still in bud but give them a few days and they too will carpet the woodland floor in a shimmering violet-blue. And these are our English bluebells. They’re more graceful than the upright, paler Spanish bluebells that we sometimes saw in France.
The blogosphere is crammed with suggestions for making use of the garlic, among the earliest greenstuffs available after the winter months. Here‘s what David Lebovitz suggests.
Well, I rely on David to supply ideas for delicious grub, so off into the woods I went for garlic leaves. I was careful to pick only leaves, rather than yank up entire plants with their tiny bulbs, so that they would grow again next year, though a few bulbs crept into my harvest despite my efforts. I’d taken my haul in any case from the woodland edge, as the garlic plants made an escape bid into nearby fields.
And here’s the resulting pasta dish. Frankly, we were a little disappointed. It wasn’t the most interesting dish we’d ever eaten. But I could see the charm of these leaves to those who’d struggled through the winter months on a diet of beans, swede, and the odd bit of salted pork. Wild garlic has a bright, ‘green’ flavour, mildly garlicky of course, and I will try it again, maybe substituting it for spinach in a tart with walnuts and a sharp cheese for instance. I always enjoy an excuse to forage for food.