If you go down to the woods today you're in for a big surprise, as the song goes, as you may find great swathes of shady woodland have a distinctly garlicky scent. From late March to May time, wild garlic sprouts up throughout the British countryside (or where the countryside used to be) and sends weirdos like me into a frenzy of foraging to bring home some of the precious leaves for our culinary pleasure. It's no exaggaration to say that I searched all of Hampstead Heath and plenty of Hertfordshire last spring trying to find the damn stuff, but this year on my first expedition I was lucky enough to spot a small patch in a part of Hampstead Heath that will remain secret. I grabbed a handful and skipped off home unable to believe my luck.
This is what wild garlic looks like. Longish spearshaped leaves and an unmistakable smell of garlic. Later in the season it will have tiny white flowers and there will probably be huge amounts of it, rather than this tiny crop. It's usually found in shaded areas of woodland, but also by riverbanks. There's more info if you're keen to have a hunt, here.
Wild garlic is more delicate than the dried bulbs and lends itself to things like pesto, creamy soups, eggs, cheesy or fishy dishes excellently. If you end up with a giant haul you could make wild garlic oil, which would keep for ages and be a very lovely thing to have in your kitchen. I made wild garlic French toast with one of my leaves and it was a triumph. Here's the recipe:
Ingredients (serves one)
One leaf wild garlic
Dash of milk
Slice of bread of your choice
Optional: small strip smoked salmon and blob of creme fraiche
Approx 300 cals with the salmon etc, easy on the butter.
Beat the egg and milk together in a large shallow bowl while melting the butter in a frying pan. Tear the wild garlic leaf into the liquid and let infuse. Soak the bread in the mixture until saturated and transfer to the pan. Cook for a minute or two on each side, or until you have the texture you desire (I like mine a bit squidgy).
I served my French toast with a ribbon of smoked salmon and some lemon spiked creme fraiche. Try it for Easter brunch and why not wash it down with some fizz? It's a bank holiday after all.