After Wild Garlic

IN

It’s the time of year to stop piling baskets high with umami rich wild garlic leaves for another year. But don’t turn your back on the woods just yet, because it’s the turn of the flowering stem to take centre stage – from the unopened buds, to the star-burst flowers and seeds that follow, there’s a lot more flavour to capture and preserve from your wild garlic patch before the season is out.

Both the flowering stem and flowers of wild garlic make some of the best pickles you’ll find, in or out of the woods. The stem and flower bud share a glassy crunch and fresh flavour, more rounded and onion-like than the leaves.

Chop the stems up for a spaghetti like pickle that can be twisted onto everything you’ll eat for the coming year. I’ve made my own version of pickled wild garlic buds and stems for a number of years now, and every year, the jars of pungent buds fly out of my stock cupboard faster than I can make them.

What of that sea of white garlic flowers? When they open they’re far milder than the seeds that will develop within the star of each flower. The sugary nectar of wild garlic flowers lend them an almost floral hint alongside their namesake garlic flavour – they’re beautiful simply added to salads, or crisped in tempura batter and served with a dipping sauce, but to preserve them for delicious posterity, try soaking them in a salt brine for a few days to intensify their flavour (see link to brining article).

If the march of time has gone against you,  and you only get to a patch of wild garlic when the leaves and flowers have dropped, you still may be in luck – look where the flowers once stuck themselves like stars onto the plant, and until even gone mid-summer you might well still find little green fruits, the size of cake decoration silver balls, only these spheres are anything but sweet.

This is the part of the plant molecular gastronomy loving chefs can only dream of being able to reproduce – gathered when tender, the fruits contain a burst of the most potent garlic juice you can find – burningly intense but incredibly moreish, gather your tiny treasures and cover in a 6% salt solution for a few days before rinsing and preserving in vinegar, or in a sprinkle of salt.

Oh, and if you have a handful of left-over wild garlic leaf, stem, flower or seed, place them in a pestle and mortar with equal amounts of salt, a splash of water & pound your pot until your arm aches and the salt turns green – you’ll be glad you did.

Wait a few weeks and take a trip back to the woods from where your pickles came, and you’ll see no trace of the plant, wilted away in the warm sun for another year, the only remaining hint of its presence now preserved in potently flavoured time capsules of spring on your wild kitchen shelves.

 

 

– – –

Liz Knight’s book “Forage” featuring 50 common plants is available now. https://www.amazon.com/Forage-Wild-plants-gather-eat 

Liz came to visit us in 2016 on Islay because of our shared interest in foraging, and we have shared bits of her writing and wisdom since then through our website and socials. More here: https://www.thebotanist.com/?s=liz+knight

How to pickle wild garlic flowers / stems / buds / fruits

 

Pickled Wild Garlic recipe (Makes 200g) 

I suspect the reason why these pickles are so popular isn’t just because of the wild garlic, but because of the sweet vinegar they are imbibed in. It is infused with two of the most delicious spring flavours – wood sorrel and wasabi-like ladysmock (Cardamine pratensis.)

Wood sorrel is lemony. The acidic taste adds fruitiness to vinegar.  You can replace wood sorrel with common sorrel.

The ladysmock lends a very helpful dose of mustard and strangely cooling heat (you’ll have to nibble on some to see how a plant can be cooling and hot at the same time, but trust me on this, it is.) If you don’t have Ladysmock you can use horseradish or wasabi. It is a brassica so another brassica flower (think rocket, broccoli, or the wild mustards) can take you some of the way.

My base recipe for pickling wild garlic buds can be applied to the stems, flowers and seeds.

 

TO PREPARE THE WILD GARLIC

Pack your wild garlic flower buds, seeds or stems into your sterilised jar.

Pour over a cooled 6% salt brine solution and ensure that all the plant is covered (a fermenting weight or a bag filled with water will help keep everything submerged)

Place in a cool area for 2 days, checking occasionally to make sure nothing is above the water.

The wild garlic will start to become even more intense in smell than when it was in the woods, strain off the water and place your wild garlic in a clean cloth and squeeze until as much water has been removed from the plant as possible – leave the wild garlic to dry out further, whilst rewashing and sterilizing the jar.

Once the jar is clean, pack with the wild garlic and pour over your hot pickling solution, filling the jar up to almost the top. Seal with clean lids and turn the jars upside down whilst they cool. (remember to tighten your lids)

 

TO MAKE THE PICKLING VINEGAR

In a pan gently heat 200ml of good quality cider vinegar.

When warm, add a loose cup full of sorrel, and ladysmock (about 25 g of each) or 1 tbsp of freshly grated horseradish root.

Leave to infuse in the warm vinegar for 30 minutes before straining out.

Bring the flavoured vinegar close to the boil.

Stir in sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, testing for sweetness as each spoonful is dissolved – you want to have a sweetness that softens any harshness in the vinegar, without becoming cloyingly sweet – I usually use about 2 tbsp for 200ml vinegar, but vinegars vary in sweetness, like tastebuds and people, so just taste until you achieve the kind of personality you like.

 

The vinegar from a good pickle should be as delicious as the pickle itself, and this is no exception. It’s ingredient enough to be used in bloody marys and dirty martinis, or drizzled over roasted peppers to make antipasti just that bit wilder.

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