Held to ransom by aromatic experience

The intensity of the scent of wild garlic whilst walking through the woods is amazing.  Pic: Gary Longbottom

The intensity of the scent of wild garlic whilst walking through the woods is amazing. Pic: Gary Longbottom

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AT THIS time of the year there isn’t much produce coming out of the garden or the allotment. Well not out of mine anyway.

Just about the only thing I’ve got is a great deal of rhubarb, some ransoms and a bit of purple broccoli. I consider myself a fairly inventive cook but there are limits to the dishes that spring to mind using that particular combination. Spring is my favourite season but I suspect that early humans found it a really hard one. Winter would have been a time for living off their stores. But at least they wouldn’t have needed to work flat out. Once spring came those stores would have been low and there would have been a need for real hard physical labour. You can’t dig over a field of wet soil without burning off a lot of calories and it takes time for the new season’s crops to come through.

Since modern humans are a touch more generously fed, I rather suspect that I may be slightly better placed than my ancestors to withstand the loss of all those calories. Unfortunately, the thought of turning over wet cloggy soil on a cold spring morning doesn’t immediately inspire me to do so. I feel the need to wait for the warmer weather before I copy my primitive forerunners with sufficient enthusiasm.

Meanwhile I can at least get dressed up nice and warm and go out searching the woods for the best ransoms.

There are plenty of things that grow in the wild that you hear described as tasting pretty good. Most of those claims are a bit on the ambitious side. But when it comes to ransoms, or wild garlic, the claims that they are particularly tasty aren’t false.

I like them raw with cheese on a simple sandwich made with brown bread. The hit of garlic and the lettuce-like crunch are fantastic and go really well with the salt of the cheese. They are just as good wilted into a dish of scrambled egg, with a few chives and some black pepper on top. Something this flavoursome doesn’t need an awful lot of messing with.

They are also remarkably easy to find or to grow. In season pretty much all you need to do is to go into an old damp wood and use your nose.

Walking through a wood where the ransoms are just coming into bloom must be one of the most astonishing aromatic experiences there is. The intensity of the scent varies with the wind and the density of the plants so that it comes upon you in waves.

The soil, the trees and the damp all work together to set off the dominant scent of the flowers and you come home aware that you are privileged to live in such wonderful countryside.

A great deal of care should be taken about gathering them, or anything else from the wild. If every London restaurant that wanted ransoms on its menu combined with every Yorkshire food enthusiast to pick their way through our local woods then it wouldn’t be long before we lost one of the best treats of the year. There are good reasons for the regulations that prevent us from picking food from heritage sites.

You can avoid picking ransoms from the wild and still enjoy the flavour by waiting until the plant is just going over and collecting some seeds from a friend. All you need to do is to throw them onto some damp unoccupied ground and they’ll do the rest themselves.

This is a plant that knows how to fight its corner. There is very little that will out compete it and given enough time you will have a nice crop.

I would have one myself were it not for one small problem. As soon as it starts to do well I have a distinct tendency to decide that it needs picking. Patience is of course a virtue. But so is not hanging about. With such a fantastic crop available and not much else the patience can go hang.

Give me the joys of being busy and the taste of the first leaves of the year.

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