When people think of Cornish culinary delicacies, apart from pasties of course, they daydream about our abundant seafood and the odd pot of clotted cream. We are blessed with an embarrassment of fresh Cornish crab, river-grown mussels and locally-caught lobster. I’m not complaining – I eat more than my fair share. But one of the first things you notice about Cornwall, as a newbie incomer, is the strangely lush semi-tropical plantlife. Ferns creep, tiny daisies and wild herbs take root in every Cornish stone wall, all flourishing under the constant gentle drizzle or the damp sea mist.
And one of the first things we spotted as a family, when we moved to the Cornish coast four years ago, was the swathes of wild garlic which blanket the river banks and footpaths close to the sea from early March until the end of April. The season is short, but as soon as we smell the aromatic ransoms or spot the delicate star-shaped white flowers, there you will find us, bags in hand, gathering our favourite free wild food with abandon. Did I mention it’s free? (Sidenote: we were like this when we lived in Sussex too. Our blackberry addiction was totally out of control). I have also had to stop my girls from eating it on the way to school, to ensure that they still have friends who will play with them. People, it lingers as long on the breath as regular garlic.
Wild garlic (or allium ursinum to give it its fancy name) isn’t always easy to find, but it is easy to smell and to spot and there are a couple of simple rules to remember when you are trying to locate a good source. It tends to grow in woodland and along hedgerows, nearby to riverbeds and streams as long as it’s not too damp underfoot. If you find a likely looking river or stream that’s a bit boggy, look just a little further afield to slightly drier ground and you might get lucky. Another reliable sign is the presence of bluebells. Where you find one, you tend to find the other as long as it hasn’t been too dry. Wild garlic has delicate white star-shaped flowers (which are edible – or rather we eat them) and it’s the leaves rather than the bulbs that are prized. But don’t be tempted to throw away the white stalks. They are bloomin’ lovely and have a slightly stronger flavour than the more delicately flavoured leaves.
So, what to make? For two months, wild garlic replaces rocket and salad leaves in our house, it makes brilliant bright green garlic soups and our very favourite home-produced garlic product is Wild Garlic Pesto. It’s super easy to make (takes about 15 minutes) and stores well fresh or frozen – just what you need when you’ve got a glut of seasonal produce.
- wild garlic (or rocket or fresh basil if you can’t discover a wild garlic stash)
- 200g of pine nuts
- parmesan cheese to taste
- crunchy sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- the finest extra virgin olive oil you can afford
- a small blender or a pestle & mortar (& lots of elbow grease)
- If you are the kind of person who likes to follow an exact recipe, look away now. Making pesto is all about tasting, testing and adjusting the main ingredients to get it just how you like. Here’s how I do it.
- I fill my mini-blender to the top with my herb/plant of choice. I add a decent slug of olive oil to lubricate and get things moving and a good pinch (small handful) of crunchy sea salt to provide grindage (not a technical culinary term).
- Blitz until roughly chopped and then add the pine nuts and parmesan and blitz a bit more until everything is combined but not too finely textured. You may need a little extra olive oil at this stage to loosen things. Season to taste and you are done.
- Any kind of pesto freezes well (ice-cube trays are brilliant for this as you can simply pop out a few cubes as and when you need them) or to keep a fresh batch going for longer, store in a little kilner jar with a layer of olive oil over. Dig in, embrace the garlic breath and enjoy a walk on the wild side.