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This wild allium, which is around for just two or three months every year, is recognisable for its deep-green leaves and pungent scent – a welcome sight and smell at the end of the UK’s ‘hungry gap’: the fallow shoulder season between deep winter and the beginning of spring.
Much like the rest of us, most spring veg waits for the weather to improve slightly before making an appearance. But wild garlic thrives in the harsher conditions of winter. “It starts growing around Christmas time and if it snows, you’ll find the harvest will be really quite good,” Noel explains. “It almost acts as insulation. Wild garlic doesn’t like air frost, which is why it grows underneath trees and at the bottom of valleys; that’s where it’s at its best.”
This year the season began at the start of March and in some areas is now in full swing. “After a week of picking smaller stuff I came across a woodland that was massively forward in terms of growth,” says Noel. “I’ve never seen a field that’s quite so different to the rest. They’d started to flower, which is incredible – it signifies the beginning of the end. Luckily, a new patch I’ve found will continue to grow for a few weeks yet. Though I’ll have to put in a proviso on that: I’ve seen it so many times, one bit will be weeks ahead, another will be only a few inches off the ground, then suddenly it all flowers at the same time!”
The leaves, best stored in water and kept upright in the fridge, can be added to just about anything that might benefit from being imbued with a garlicky flavour, stirred in like you would spinach. Think creamy garlic mushrooms, gnocchi, or mashed potato. “The staple one for me is an omelette, preferably made with duck eggs,” says Noel. “I like stuffing chicken with it, too, or lying it beneath the bird while it cooks. I did a venison stew the other night and put a great handful in that and cooked it down. I add it to anything and everything, really.”
Regulars at Noel’s stall will no doubt have come across his famed wild garlic pesto, which he makes by hand. “People go a bit crazy for it,” Noel laughs. “I took a batch to Borough this morning and I doubt it’ll still be there by the end of tomorrow.” Excellent stirred into pasta or spread atop a fillet of fish, wrapped in foil and roasted, it’s a treat not to be missed. Best be quick.
To find out more about Noel and his stall at Borough Market, click here.
This article was originally published in Great British Food.
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