foraging

Inheritance recipe: wild garlic pesto

An occasional series in which I pass on recipes that have been important for our family. They’re mainly for my children, Miriam, Finn and Benjamin, but I like to think other people might stumble across them and enjoy them too.

garlicky stream

Wherever you go and whatever becomes of you three, I hope that you will always be within foraging distance of a patch of wild garlic. Then I will know that you must be near to trees, possibly in ancient woodland, and with luck some running water too.

bend

with anenomes

The wild garlic in ‘our’ woods has been up for about ten days now. It’s one of the heralds of spring round here, part of an overture to the growing season that begins with lesser celandine in March, continues with the garlic and wood anemones. and segues into inky splashes of bluebells all across the banks of the stream.

greens

You can track the progress of spring just by the garlicky smell. This morning I caught a faint tang just before I turned onto the path; soon the entire valley will reek of it. The trees are mostly bare still, but the valley floor is thick with the garlic, along with celandine and wood anemone. While I was picking the leaves I could hear wrens, robins and a nuthatch. A great spotted woodpecker was drumming in the distance.

bud1

I’ve always called the plant wild garlic, but ‘ramsons’ is at least as common a name. It’s also known as stinking nanny and Londoner’s lilies. According to Richard Mabey’s extraordinary book Flora Britannica (you need a copy of this), the Old English root of ‘ramsons’ is hrmsa, a word that crops up in a slew of place names: Ramsey Island, Ramsbottom, Ramsholt, Ramshorn and more.

In a few weeks the woods will be brimming with its starry white flowers. By then, though, it will be too late to forage as once the flowers are out, the leaves become tough and bitter. See if you can get out and find some now, and then try this wild garlic pesto recipe which your dad and I are having on wild (but not foraged) salmon tonight.

Walnut and wild garlic pesto
Traditionally, you make pesto with pine nuts but they are expensive so I decided to use walnuts instead. What follows is adapted from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe here. I’ve probably already told you: if I could only have one cookbook it would be Hugh’s River Cottage Veg Every Day.

ingredients

You will need:

  • About three large handfuls of wild garlic – around 75g
  • 50g walnuts (without shells, obviously)
  • 35g hard, mature cheese. Parmesan is the obvious choice; I used a hard goat cheese; a salty, grainy Pecorino would also be good, or you could use a vegan substitute
  • Zest and juice of half a lemon
  • About 120ml extra virgin olive oil

Put the walnuts in a baking tin and roast at 180 degrees for about eight minutes. Use a timer: they will go from toasty brown to blackened cinder in seconds. Leave to cool.

Wash and dry the wild garlic thoroughly (chances are you’ve picked it somewhere muddy), chop it roughly and throw it in a food processor. A liquidiser would probably work too.  Add the cooled nuts, the finely grated cheese and the lemon zest. Blitz to a paste.

processor

Leave the processor running, add the lemon juice and then the oil in a steady stream. The pesto will be quite sloppy but it firms up a bit in the fridge.

finished pesto

The end result is DayGlo bright with a big, gutsy flavour that explodes in your mouth. It can be a bit throat-catching when you first taste it, but it calms down once it’s incorporated with other ingredients in a meal. You could always add a handful of (preferably flat-leaf) parsley to take the edge off.

knot your regular apple crumble

Knotweed stemsTwo words to strike fear into the heart of any gardener: Japanese knotweed. This is a plant unparalleled in its thuggishness, more invasive than the Romans and so difficult to eradicate that it is actually illegal to put it in your dustbin.

Fallopia Japonica was brought to the UK by the Victorians who liked its ornamental appearance but did not realise that their descendants would forever curse them for introducing a plant that can grow a metre in a month and has the power to displace tarmac and even force its way through brickwork.

Huge sums of money are spent by local councils attempting to kill off this brute but it takes a place like Incredible Edible Todmorden to find a way of putting it to good use. Up at Incredible Farm, a brilliant social enterprise that is, among other things, training young people to become market gardeners, they’re harvesting the knotweed shoots and cooking them up for a new kind of gastro experience.

Helena Cook, herbalist extraordinaire and the brains behind Todmorden’s fabulous apothecary garden, goes so far as to call Japanese knotweed ‘the new superfood’. According to her, it has been used for centuries in eastern medicines to treat a range of ailments from heart problems to liver disease. Pharmaceutical companies use it to produce resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant that can slow the ageing process and reduce age-related illnesses.

New shoots of Japanese knotweed look a little like a pink version of asparagus but the taste is similar to rhubarb. I’ve tried them lightly fried in olive oil, which was OK, but tonight I thought I’d try one of Helena’s suggestions: a fruit crumble.

colander

I had a cooking apple that needed using up, so I mixed that with some freshly picked Japanese knotweed shoots and Demerara sugar, scattered a crumble top over and baked it for about half an hour. It was absolutely delicious.

This is the recipe as best as I can remember it. The crumble top is in ounces because it’s my mum’s formula that she’s been using for more than half a century and to convert it into grams would seem a bit sacrilegious somehow.

Japanese knotweed and apple crumble

 Base
About 250 grams Japanese knotweed shoots
One medium cooking apple
About two heaped tablespoons of sugar, preferably Demerara for the crunch

Topping
5 ounces plain flour
2 1/2 ounces butter
2 ounces soft brown sugar

::Cut the knotweed into pieces about 4 cm long. Peel, core and slice the apple, mix with the knotweed and sugar and place in an ovenproof dish.
::Whizz the flour and butter in a food processor and mix in the sugar. Scatter on top of the fruit and bake in a medium oven for about 30 minutes.
::Serve warm, preferably with custard. Crème fraiche is good too but lacks the comfort factor.

 

crumble

Incredible Farm’s apprentice Jed wrote a nice blog about Japanese knotweed here. I’m looking forward to hearing what ingenious recipes Helena comes up with for Jed’s harvest.

Rules for disposing of Japanese knotweed can be found here.

And as Jed says: ‘The same caution should be exercised consuming Fallopia japonica as to other plants that contain oxalic acid.’ See www.netplaces.com/foraging-guide/becoming-plant-wise/allergies.htm