When we went to the bluebell woods a couple of weeks ago, we stopped off along the way to pick wild garlic first. We've been doing this for a few years now, and it's become one of the seasonal markers in our year.
From mid-April into May the unmistakeably pungent aroma greets the nostrils of anyone who passes through the woods or along roadsides where it grows. We followed the path and went over the stile, and we were there, surrounded by garlic.
Like bluebells, it grows in deciduous woodland and carpets the ground with little white flowers when in bloom. Its other names are ransoms, bear's garlic, jack-by-the-hedge and stinking jenny, and it is a member of the allium family which includes onions, leeks, garlic and chives.
Unlike garlic, it's the leaves which are eaten, and not the bulbs, but care must be taken when picking not to take too many leaves from one plant. You must also ensure that you have identified the correct plant (your nose will tell you!) For anyone interested in foraging, this book is invaluable, and gives rules on picking.
The flowers are pretty little globes of white stars, although apparently you should aim to pick before too many of the flowers have opened, as the taste is better. I smelt the flowers, and they have a curious perfume of honey mixed with garlic which was not unpleasant!
There were lots of other signs of spring that day - buds were opening on the trees.
Tiny yellow celandines were dotted here and there on the ground.
Red campion was also in bloom, such a pretty wild flower. It always seems to link spring into summer for me, coming as it does, as the bluebells are past their prime.
Its hairy stems are particularly attractive, and so soft to the touch. I can remember picking them as a child and putting them in jam jars with butter cups and cow-parsley.
The buttercups were there too, a gorgeous saucer of egg-yolk yellow.
Bright and sunny, with reflective waxy petals to catch the light.
So much to see in one quick trip to the woods! All around us the carpet of green and white stretched under the trees and we worked quickly, collecting a couple of bags of leaves to take home.
Once home, I washed and roughly chopped the leaves, and then whizzed them up in a little processor to chop them very finely. I then whizzed up some pine nuts, grated some parmesan and mixed it all together with lots of olive oil to make pesto.
The smell is absolutely heavenly, and so appetising, I can almost smell it when I look at this picture! I put some into jars, and the rest I froze in little tubs and ice-cube trays, so that we can enjoy it into the rest of the year.
I've got a small patch in the garden which my son planted for me a year ago, and will use a few leaves to make some cheese and garlic scones, as well as putting it in a salad. It goes especially well with tomatoes and mozzarella, and can be used in the same way as spinach in many recipes, wilting down very quickly when added at the end of cooking. We like to eat it with pasta and courgettes, and when we do it reminds us of our trip to the woods.