Spring weekends are for wanders through the woods, to find the land where the wild things are. There’s a particular aroma that wafts from the weald in spring time, follow it and it will lead you to a bounty. There, betwixt trees and bank, you’ll find a tapestry of little white stars; an astronomical, gastronomical and olfactory navigation- this is the search for wild garlic.
Sussex is a notoriously plentiful county for ramsons, but they can be found, carpeted across Europe from April to June. You might notice a playful waft of garlic when out on walks, and the forest floor will be awash with sweeping green leaves emblazoned with starlike flowers; allium ursinum, ramsons, buckrams- whatever you want to call it, this is the wild child of the allium clan.
The woods surrounding us, burst with bluebells at this time of year; soft spring mornings are spent walking among them, their ever elusive scent filling up gaps in the trees. Lovely though that is, no salty-sweet, garlicky fumes are to be found on this side of the downs, and that’s what I’m after in the month of May.
Over the hills we go, a little past Arundel, following a lane leading to nowhere but the edge of the Arun, and there, by the river bend, sits a most idyllic little hamlet. A patient wait, while a couple of hundred cows nonchalantly cross, blocking up the only way in or out; then as we wind further down the lane, the road gently comes to an end. On a postage-stamp village green, little lambs bleat in the evening light, prancing and two-stepping their way over to the safety of their mothers. An old barn, still in working use to the left, and to the right, a Norman church, it’s spire just peeking out over the red-slate roofs of scattered cottages; a perfectly bucolic setting, this place is like taking a sweet step back in time.
Taking the footpath left, through farm land following the gentle meander of the River, I confidently declare ‘we’ll smell it before we see it‘, but even then, I wasn’t the first to spot it. Look, there! And sure enough, sheltering under the canopy of newly laden branches, was a heavenly carpet of celestial wonder; the wild garlic.
Once you’re sure its ramsons (the garlic scent makes a good determining factor), pick the leaves and flowers sparingly, gently too, leaving the bulbs intact in the ground. Once it’s home, a wash and a dry and it’s ready to go. Wild garlic has it’s plus points too– it has all the anti’s one could hope for; antioxidant, and anti inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiseptic, but above all else, it’s utterly delicious.
Chopped raw into salads, the little flowers will burst with sweet garlic flower, or shake it into a dressing. Slice it into mashed potato, or sprinkled over roasts. Layered in sandwiches, whizzed into a mayonnaise, or my favourite; wilted in a pan and served on toast.
Wild garlic mayonnaise
- 100g of wild garlic
- 500ml of rapeseed oil
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tsp English mustard
- 2 tsp white wine vinegar
- Salt and black pepper to taste
You’ll need a blender.
We’ll first make the garlic oil. To do this, boil a pan of salted water and have a bowl of ice water ready. Blanch the wild garlic for 20 seconds in the boiling water. Remove and plunge into the iced water- this will help it to retain its vivid green.
Roughly chop the wild garlic, and pop it in the blender, then pour in the rapeseed oil. Start blitzing on a low speed, then increase in speed for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until the oil is a bright, vibrant green colour.
Whisk the egg yolks and mustard in a bowl until smooth. Continue whisking and gradually pour in a thin, steady stream of the wild garlic oil. Very slowly at first, whisking continuously for around 3 to 5 minutes, or until thickened. Once you’ve added about half the oil, whisk in 1 tablespoon of vinegar
Keep whisking and pouring until all of the oil has been absorbed and has emulsified with the egg mixture – you should be left with a nice, thick green mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper. It will last in a sterilised jar in the fridge for a week.