The dog likes looking for sticks in the garlic…
April is the month of showers and young shoots in England and once again the nettles and the wild garlic are overwriting the brown manuscript of faded winter leaf litter in vivid shades of green; baby saplings are shooting from where the squirrels have planted forgotten acorns and hazels – and when the sun shines, muddy puddles glint and poodles dive in for a quick paddle.
We walked through the woodland at Ashton Court, passing by the new mountain bike trail along the deer park fence; it has weathered and is not as intrusive looking as it was when it was all raw and new and finally came out on this dusty path down the hill with a view to the sky and Dundry Hill in the distance.
The buzzards were busy carrying nesting material around, beautiful big birds outlined against the blue. There was much rustling and squawking and the alarm calls of birds which I couldn’t quite identify; tall trees creaking and rubbing alarmingly against each other in the wind. We walked softly down the side of the hill and along the lower wall.
Wood pigeons flew out of hollow trees, wrens whirred and fizzed on their short flights from woodpile to streams, goldfinches bathed in the shallows and for a big city there are always surprises. We heard talking up in the air at one point and realised there were two people chatting in one of the ancient pollarded oaks that are cared for at Ashton Court. I took a picture of the tree they were in two years ago almost to the day. It is a miniature ecosystem in itself, with ferns and fungi and grass growing in its centre.
Celandine and wild violets were a couple of the more common wildflowers that we recognised. I nibbled a blooming violet and it was gently sweet.
If you can identify nettles, then at this time of year you have a free source of the most wonderful healthy (and, dare I say it, fashionable) green vegetable to add into your supper dishes. I saw a piece by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall about them the other day here in the Guardian. Brian’s Dad and Gran always ate nettles in the springtime and Brian says his Dad could pick them with his fingers the way he can – must be a special nettle picking gene!
Last year around this time I made nettle gnocchi and wrote about them in this post. I haven’t made them since, but I remember they were very good and I really should make them again!
Yesterday we picked (that is the ‘royal we’ – Brian picked the most because he has asbestos fingers and I didn’t have any gloves, good excuse!) the top four leaves of young nettles on our walk and I picked a bunch of wild garlic.
Both nettles and wild garlic are fairly easy to identify and I have written about the wild garlic on a page here. If you are unsure about any wild plants find someone who is confident about their identification skills and go out with them the first time. Better safe than sorry.
You could always borrow Zeb as he is expert at finding wild garlic.
We made a risotto with the wild garlic and the nettles that we picked which I will post about next.
Stroud is twenty five miles from Bristol and on a quiet Saturday when the population of Bristol seems to have vanished elsewhere for the Easter break, you can be there in under half an hour. It has an award winning Farmers Market which is so successful that it now sets up its stalls every Saturday morning.
In the Wild Food section (see the black menu bar at the top of the blog) I’ve created an information page about Wild Garlic; it also gives links to various posts I wrote last year about this wonderful plant. I hope it is helpful. Please let me know if there is anything else I can add to it. You can click here to go straight to the page.
Wild garlic makes the most wonderful pesto by the way. I whizzed some together recently with a mixture of basil leaves, fresh garlic leaves, Millstone sheep’s milk cheese from North Wootton Dairy (Bristol Slow Food Market), pine nuts and olive oil.
Use it in sandwiches and on pasta, stir it into anything that you think might benefit. Just delicious!
What are your favourite garlic recipes? I have fond memories of picking olives in Crete and eating cold lentils strewn with fresh chopped garlic at lunchtime. I had to drop that habit when I came back to England though as no one would speak to me!
My mother was good on identification, my aunts and uncles too, the knowledge passed on from one generation to another, backed up by books and photos. I have some, not altogether reassuring, memories of my female relatives arguing over a particularly luridly coloured specimen, saying,
‘Of course, this is a good one! ’
and then to my horror, chewing little bits and pulling faces and spitting them out….
…anyway, all I can say is that no one died and no one got ill, though I have met plenty of people who claim to know someone who knows someone who died of eating mushrooms. Of course, there are headline grabbing deadly mushrooms, like the Destroying Angel – what a name! And there are mushrooms that will make you very sick and people do die from eating them every year. You can look up the statistics on these things, though what they don’t say is how many people safely and responsibly pick wild mushrooms each year.
If you want to pick mushrooms you need to find someone to show you which ones are good and far more importantly which ones are bad and also which ones have look-alikes that can be confused. You need to read, study, and observe. There are maybe a dozen ‘good’ mushrooms that I am certain of; any I don’t know I leave them where they grow. There are books, on-line resources, fungi groups, all sorts of places to find out more. Take your time and do your homework.
In some European countries you can take your mushrooms to be identified by an expert before eating them, as far as I know we don’t have that service here.
A few days ago walking the dogs in a glade of larches, we found these little beauties, called larch boletus or sulleius grevellei …… They only grow under larch trees; hence the name. Of course other fungi grow under larch trees, so you need to know the other characteristics of the mushroom as well. We picked a pound of them and took them home, where I cleaned them up, double checked my identification with Roger Phillips and various other reliable references and made duxelles with them as in Antonio Carluccio’s A Passion for Mushrooms.
Duxelles are a very simple way to store and freeze all mushrooms: slice some onions, fry them gently, add a little nutmeg if you like it and then add the cleaned and sliced mushrooms and cook them gently. Once the liquid has evaporated, you let them cool down and then either chop them finely and freeze in an ice cube tray so you can pop them in a bag and use them to enrich soups and stews, or just freeze them as they are. Some mushrooms dry well or can be pickled but Carluccio doesn’t recommend that for the larch boletus. This mushroom is good, but not one of the greats like porcini or morels!
So I put some in the freezer for a risotto in a few weeks time, and kept a few to go with our dinner adding a little garlic, lemon juice, parsley and cream. The sweet and earthy aroma of these mushrooms is like nothing else….together with a few of our tender garden charlotte potatoes, a piece of locally raised sirloin steak from Cotswold Edge Farm, some bright and joyful english runner beans. That was a great supper!
Do you have any special dishes you like to make with mushrooms?