First things first, American readers, wild garlic is the same as ramps :)
I always wondered why I didn’t know about wild garlic when I was growing up in the Irish countryside, and why the surrounding hedgerows and fields weren’t full of it. There was 3 cornered leek, slender and more grassy with a longer season, but still with gorgeous oniony flowers. But no wild garlic at all. The answer became clear as I investigated, rural areas which have lots of dairy cattle don’t have much of it because cows eat the wild garlic and it makes the milk very pungent. So the farmers dig it up. Once it takes root, if conditions are right, wild garlic will take over and spread. You will find it in the shade and with moist soil, you will often find them near patches of bluebells. Once I discovered this, I realised that we had had wild garlic all the time.
In an old abandoned stately home at the end of my road (not uncommon in Ireland), there was a beautiful wood which would be carpeted by bluebells and what we called white bluebells in Spring, and which I now realise was wild garlic. I loved that place and dreamed that one day I might own it. A big old house facing the Atlantic, it had a large wood on either side where we would go for conkers and fruit in Autumn and flowers in Spring. It had a walled garden with apple trees, cherry trees and gooseberry bushes. It was a secret garden that we would play in, the green door still intact and the white wall still high. There were abandoned old stables and a big house, still fully furnished. We found diaries, skis and a wedding dress when we investigated one day. There was a gorgeous small lodge at the entrance outside, which by now was a field full of cows. It was demolished to make way for a golf club, and I was devastated to discover it. Most of the local community were.
We spent much of our childhood wandering around here. The house slowly degraded and became dangerous so we weren’t allowed go there but we still always would. The cows moved in from the field outside to the woods and the ground, and one day we were chased by some bulls (although I fear actually timid bullocks) and we spent hours up a tree waiting for them to go, having to dash across at one point and climb a thick briar, to be rescued from on top of the high external wall by my friends visiting cousin when he wandered past and heard us wailing. We brought a ladder another day to access the house from the first floor now that the downstairs was barred (remember: dangerous!) only to discover a hole in the window and a dead crow splayed on the ground. I took that as a sign and turned heel, with everyone else yelling chicken after me. Chicken maybe, but I just saw a dead crow!
This wasn’t the only old abandoned house that we played in but it was by far the largest and the most magical. When people left Ireland in poverty, they left their houses behind to crumble with the weather and time. Woodhouse became one of their number and there are no photos that I can find of this gorgeous place. Likely it was much smaller than my child’s eye remembers. Fond memories remain only.
Harvesting wild garlic as I was all those years ago, although with no idea, just to put in vases all around the house. I loved their pretty flowers. Now, I treasure the flowers and the leaves and do all I can to get my mitts on them in season. The flowers have a gorgeous sharp flavour, the leaves too but more sour. I buy it at the farmer’s market, my friend Danny has a garden full and recently donated a plant to my cause, and last weekend I was in Cardiff and went foraging with my friend Abi. We found a riverside carpeted with it, it was more of a stream really. Tender small young leaves and mainly unopened flower buds, which I will pickle like capers.
With Danny’s plant, I made a wild garlic porchetta. I had porchetta in my head since my last trip to Rome and I had to make it, if only to exorcise it from my brain. I adore porchetta when it is well made. At home it is tricky, you really need to seal the porchetta as well as you can so that you can retain the fat within, the fat is key to moisture and flavour and there is much of it in the meat. The best way to do this is to stitch the porchetta closed all round. You can seal the ends with tin foil too. I didn’t have a butchers needle (although I have ordered one now) but I did have butchers twine, and so I wrestled my slippery porchetta just before midnight on a night last week and closed it as tightly as I could manage.
For porchetta, you want the loin and belly still as one joint (with the ribs removed). Ask your butcher to do this for you, one of my favourite butchers in London Turner and George prepared it expertly for me (they have an online shop and deliver too). I then blitzed some wild garlic leaves with some oil (rendered pork lard would have been better but I didn’t have any), and rubbed it on to the flesh inside. I rolled it tight and tied it as best as I could – not terribly well if I am honest, I need to work on it – but the results were still gorgeous. I started it bright and furiously, then covered it with foil to roast overnight at a lower temperature. In the morning, my flat smelled gloriously porky with a perky sharp edge of wild garlic, I removed the foil and blasted it again until the skin was perfectly crisp. Roasting it slowly overnight will always give perfect crackling once you dry the skin before you put it in.
This was such a gorgeous dish. I recommend getting some friends around and serving it as you would a roast, or for a picnic in pizza bianca or gorgeous crusty bread. If you want to serve it for dinner, put it in first thing in the morning, it doesn’t need to be overnight.
I have so many ideas for my wild garlic but I would love to hear yours too. Or do you have any favourite recipes that you could link me to? Thanks!
Other wild garlic ideas from Eat Like a Girl:
Gorgeous wild garlic recipes from elsewhere:
Wild Garlic Pesto, Soup, Bread etc etc etc from Food Urchin
Wet & Wild Garlic Lasagne with Creamy St. George’s Mushrooms & Fresh Egg Pasta from Ramson’s & Bramble in Leeds, UK
serves 8 - the leftovers are brilliant also
- 1 x 4 to 5 kg porchetta joint (ask your butcher to prepare one with the belly and loin with ribs removed, and skin still on) - you won't regret making more, it is sandwich heaven
- 50g wild garlic leaves
- 2 tbsp oil like extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil (or pork dripping if you have it)
- sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- butcher's string
- aluminium foil to cover
- a deep roasting tray that will fit the roast comfortably