Chepstow was very familiar and I didn’t know why. Not far beyond Bristol and just in Wales, Chepstow is of course the home to a famous horse racing track and it is where the Grand National is. I must have seen it on the TV listings many times (I know little to nothing about horse racing, despite this I did manage to pick a winning horse before entirely at random and at 40:1 odds!).
A friend and her daughter go often, usually to camp. They invited me to join over Easter, this time they would be renting a mobile home with friends. Just two and a half hours on a bus from London and a short drive, I found myself on the edge of some woods that traversed the English-Welsh border near Tintern Abbey on the River Wye, a place familiar to me but only in my head, the subject of a poem by Wordsworth that we had studied in school.
A cistercian monastery for 400 years until 1536 when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and monastic life was seized here. The monastery and its land were handed to the King and speedily fell into disrepair after the roof lead was sold. A skeleton remains but it is nonetheless stunning, particularly when views after a walk in the woods to the Devil’s Pulpit on top of a nearby hill (so named as this is where the devil is said to have preached to the monks in the monastery below). The area surrounding has many farms and farm shops. My visit was brief this time but I can see that this is a wonderful place for food lovers to visit and to decompress.
The woods are rich with wild garlic, bluebells and perky wood anemones. Bird song and squirrels accompanied a long walk sheltered by trees, old and creaking, some with vines wrapped around that have become part of the tree bark. The leaves are thinking of opening, for now the wild garlic has all of the light to itself. Banks facing the sun wave proud flowers, those in the shade are still shy.
I have shared much about wild garlic over the years. Mainly what to do with it and how much I love it. How to differentiate it from other forms of wild allium which are frequently confused for it (usually three cornered leek, allium triquetrum). The allium family is large, and this one (also called ransoms, particularly in the US) is one of the tastiest. Broad leaves, sharp and a little sour, work well in many situations where you might use a green. They are wonderful, and the flowers are particularly special (although my favourites are the flowers of three cornered leek, like a spring onion wearing its Sunday best).
Wild garlic is best used fresh but is well preserved in the fridge blended with some oil (I like rapeseed or extra virgin olive oil for this, for every 50g of washed and dried wild garlic, 1o0ml of oil). Wild garlic famously makes a great pesto (my recipe for wild garlic pesto is a cracker, if I do say so myself). I also like to wilt it in hot oil as I would spinach or any other green and use it as it is (although this is best chopped first as wild garlic can be quite toothsome, especially as it matures.
My time in Wales was brief and so I brought lots of food with me. Beetroot marinaded eggs, lightly pickled, served with kewpie (Japanese) mayonnaise, wilted wild garlic and some garlic flowers. Gorgeous and fresh, so very speedy. The beetroot eggs couldn’t be simpler, soft boiled eggs peeled and marinaded in beetroot juice for up to a few days in the fridge. Overnight will lend them a pink jacket, over a few days they will firm up and the white will become completely pink. I like them like this, and I use a mixture of one part vinegar to three parts beetroot juice to lightly pickle them.
Wales, I will be back. To lose myself and find myself again.