Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wild Garlic in the Wilds of Wicklow

My brain is kind of like an old Gameboy. Sometimes it happens that there is so much Tetris, Yoshi or Super Mario Bros. going on that all the information gets jammed up and stops the game working efficiently. Sometimes I try to move so quickly that I stop moving altogether. When that happens, just like a Gameboy, I have to reset. I could do something normal like watch a DVD or do yoga, but I'm not normal. That kind of relaxing doesn't appeal to me most of the time. I like a challenge. I've learned that in my life, what works best when I need to reset is to take myself to the country and walk. Up a steep hill. 

Yesterday was one of those days. My stress bumps were coming back and I needed to breath some Wicklow air. I organized with my beautiful friend Marion (who is also an integral member of the Caryna's Cakes team) to go hunting for wild garlic. Marion is a passionate French woman and loves quality. Quality clothes, quality design, quality workmanship, quality fabrics and quality food (including quality cakes. Our friendship blossomed over weekly meetings at a Farmer's market). She knows her way around a roast chicken, let me tell you! She knows remedies and recipes off by heart like a real French woman. And she knows how to spot wild garlic.

When Marion and I set out together, even with the best of intentions for rest and relaxation, it always turns into an adventure. Like the time we ran into the Harlem Globetrotters at 3am just minding our own business with a car chock-a-block with cakes and bakery gear. Long story. This day we though to ourselves that we'd just set upon an intentional adventure. We'd drive and see where we end up. Surely we'd come upon some wild garlic.

Wild garlic is the calling card of springtime in Ireland. Unlike garlic bulbs that we traditionally eat, with wild garlic you eat the leaves and flowers. I aint no talented forager but hunting for wild garlic is the most obvious, safest kind of foraging there is. The leaves look similar to those of Lily of the Valley except they smell unmistakably of...garlic! Wild garlic grows in blankets in damp shaded forest areas. Plenty of forest in Wicklow, right? Well, we though so.

We drove in any random direction until we pulled over at a promising looking forest.

Looks like there would be plenty of damp shady areas in here
We were very professional with our foraging baskets. When we got stuck among the sticky conifers, Marion used hers over her head to escape. Survival 101

1st forest - In the end we realised we were in a planted Christmas tree forest. No hope of wild garlic. We made it out alive with only a few scratches and covered in sticks.

It looks like I took an entire Hannukah bush back with me on my sweater

Forest 2 - Looked more promising. We explored and explored but no luck. We learned that dry pine forests were probably not the place for wild garlic to grow. I was so hungry at this point that I was suffering phantom garlic smells so we decided to head for home and try again another day. At the junction I was meant to go left for Dublin but I went right...

...and like any good Marion and Caryna adventure, we were happily surprised. Marion did the smell test. Lo and behold! We happened upon a mother load of wild garlic in a secret location now known only to us and coordinates known only to my Sat Nav.

Small and medium leaves have the best flavour. In a few days the beautiful white garlic flowers will bloom. We'll be back for you garlic flowers!

Not wanting to be too greedy, we picked about 250g each which is enough to make a delicious wild garlic pesto

After all of our years of friendship we have never managed to take one single decent friend photo. We always seem to be laughing too hard.

For Wild Garlic Pesto:
Blend 250g washed wild garlic leaves and flowers and 250g Pine Nuts in a food processor
Add 250g grated Parmesan and blitz.
Pour extra virgin oilve oil through the feed tube while the machine is running until you have a saucy consisntency.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour into a sterilized jar and cover with a layer of olive oil for storage. 
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  1. Here's a little Italian fatherly advise: Adding basil or mint in the pesto would make it taste even yummier.

  2. What a great story, I am going to look for wild garlic now and try your recipe, love the photos.