If you read many “foodie” blogs, you’ll see that foraging seems to be something you need to do, or you are just Not Keeping Up. Now, I love fresh food but I am not going to start foraging. “Pick your own mushrooms” they say. Really? REALLY? How do you know they aren’t toadstools? How do you know your foraged risotto al funghi won’t kill off your nearest and dearest? There is a huge risk differential between snaffling a few blackberries to add to an apple pie and deciding you are qualified to distinguish between a delicious mushroom and a fungus which at best, will give you a night to remember for all the wrong reasons. I love nettle risotto but my nearest green space is Brompton Cemetery and call me a wimp if you like, but somehow I just don’t fancy eating something picked in a Cemetery (and there is the small matter of it being illegal to take flora from there).
In Italy, they do things differently and many pharmacists are qualified to pronounce on your foraged fungus (no, not the kind on your feet, although they do that too). There are also helpful signs near popular foraging sites warning you of the toxic fungus to be avoided, although how do you know those signs are comprehensive? Just because something doesn’t appear on the sign doesn’t mean it’s safe. Oh, I know, I’m a wuss but blame 35+ years of working in insurance – risk assessment is an ingrained habit.
My aversion to foraging does not, however, mean I need to miss out on recipes containing ingredients traditionally thought of as foraged. The lovely folk at farmdrop.com have recently added a seasonal goodie which I just love: wild garlic. I am pretty well addicted to garlic in most forms and this has given me the seasonal opportunity to experiment with it and look into its history.
It amused me to see that its Latin name is allium ursinum due to it being a favourite of the European Brown Bear who, after emerging from hibernation, would dig it up and feed voraciously, as it grew early in the spring. Bears, in all their variations, are by far and away my favourite animal so it’s another reason for me to have a soft spot for this plant. In the absence of being able to keep a bear at home, I’ll happily settle for a dog, preferably an Italian Greyhound…but I digress.
This garlic is widespread over Europe but its similarity to Lily of the Valley, which is toxic, has led to a few cases of death through people confusing the two. I’m not sure I understand why as the flower forms are completely different and what about the smell? Crush Lily of the Valley and you get a light, pleasant fragrance that reminds me of Diorella. Crush wild garlic and it’s a whole different fragrance, unused, as far as I know by M. Dior. Just reinforces my aversion to amateur foraging, though.
Wild garlic is seasonal between April and June in the UK, so do make the most of it. I chop it into butter for the ubiquitous garlic butter or to drizzle over roast cod or chicken. The leaves (which have a slightly milder flavour than the bulb) can be used in a salad or added to a leafy green vegetable. The pretty white flowers make a lovely garnish, a change from the nasturtium, but I think my new favourite is this soup. Spring weather can be so unpredictable that I never feel a hot soup is unwelcome around about now and last weekend, when the weather here DID change rapidly and in the wrong direction, this was especially welcome. My slightly fanciful name references the Latin name and also the startlingly intense green of the finished soup which begs finishing with the contrasting colour of cream or creme frâiche – or indeed the flowers.