It feels like we’ve had a slightly lighter harvest of wild garlic this year. I’m not sure if more people are harvesting the leaves for their lockdown cook-alongs or whether we just haven’t had as much time out foraging as we would normally but there definitely seems to be less about?
Either way wild garlic is the springtime gift that just keeps on giving and we’ve tried our best to preserve this year’s harvest for the year to come. The biggest problem is that we are both inherently greedy so it is unlikely that we will get through the next few months without emptying our larder!
You can eat all parts of the plant from the bulb up (make sure you have the landowners permission before removing any bulbs!) We’ve spent the season fermenting and drying leaves, pickling flower heads and made jar upon jar of pesto which have been emptied onto pasta, spread on pizzas and given to our nearest and dearest as little pick me ups during lockdown.
Today’s focus and for the next couple of months is going to be wild garlic seed capers. These little preserves are incredibly flavourful and pack a real punch. A little goes a long way and we tend to use them most for garnishing canapes but they will add a real depth of flavour in any recipe which calls for traditional capers. Making wild garlic seed capers is a labour of love, removing the individual seed from the seed head can be incredibly laborious but I can assure you that it is well worth the effort!
Once the seeds have been removed the rest of the process is more about patience than any hands on work. The next step is to salt the wild garlic seeds, plain coarse salt will do just fine but you could consider using a smoked salt to see how this changes the end flavour? The wild garlic seeds will salt for 3 weeks, drawing out the moisture from within and making it an inhospitable place for any nasties to thrive.
After the initial salting we will then give the wild garlic seeds a good rinse in water, pat them dry and then submerge them into a vinegar of your choice. Cider vinegar is always a good one to go for as it will keep the flavour nice and clean, meaning you won’t be restricting what you could use the wild garlic seed capers for, but again experiment find a vinegar that you like most. This year we will be experimenting with a red wine vinegar that was steeped with wild cherry plums and a cider vinegar that was steeped with elderflowers all here from The Priory Farm Estate.
The wild garlic seed capers will need a minimum of a month before they’re ready to pop open. This will allow all of the flavours to mingle and mellow, if you can wait three months then all the better. Kept in sterilised jars in the fridge these wild garlic seed capers should keep quite happily until the next wild garlic seed heads appear the following year!
Wild GArlic Seed Capers ingredients
Enough wild garlic seed heads to fill a jar
3 tbsp coarse salt
Step 1: Picking and processing your seed heads
Pick the seed heads leaving as much of the long stem behind as possible. You can of course pick the wild garlic seed heads with the long stem attached but they take up quite a lot of room in your foraging bags.
Thoroughly wash your seed heads in a large bucket giving them a good shake around with your hands. Allow the seed heads to sit in the water for 30 minutes or so to allow any excess dirt to loosen off before repeating the first step.
If lots of petals have risen to the top you can push down the seed heads and remove the petals with a sieve or slotted spoon.
Lay out tea towels on your worktop and spread the wild garlic seeds evenly allowing them to dry completely.
Step 2: Salting
Remove the seed heads from the stem (we find the easiest way is to either use a fork or snip them with a small pair of scissors)
Place the wild garlic seeds into your sterilised jar layering up with the salt.
Screw the lid on to the jar tight and place in the fridge for three weeks shaking the jar daily.
Step 3: pickling
Once the three weeks has passed place the salted wild garlic seeds into a sieve and rinse well. Lay out tea towels on your worktop and spread the wild garlic seeds out again to dry completely.
Place the wild garlic seeds back into a sterilised jar and cover with your vinegar of choice and allow to pickle for at least a month but preferably three.
We love to scatter these small but mighty capers over canapes, especially pigeon saltimbocca or our gin and beetroot cured trout!
Our Foraging tips
Before you set off there are a few foraging guidelines to keep in mind to avoid any injury to yourself or the natural habitats you encounter.
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Always forage small amounts for personal use, leaving adequate produce for animals and insects to indulge on, as well as other foragers!
IF IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT.
Only eat something if you are 100% sure of its identification, as some plants can make you unwell, or worse still – some are even deadly. Books are very helpful for this; one of our favourites is ‘Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland‘, ‘Food for Free‘ and ‘The Forager’s Handbook‘. Websites and social media groups can also be helpful, but make sure you trust the source entirely before you eat your finds
PICK FROM PLENTIFUL PLANTS
Only forage from plants that have produced plenty of fruit as the plant depends on this to reproduce.
WATCH YOUR STEP
Choose carefully how you access your foraging finds. Avoid crushing plants and habitats underfoot whilst hunting for wild foods.
LEAVE ROOM FOR RE-GROWTH
Avoid taking too much twig and never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.
Your foraging kit should include – a small legal carry knife or secateurs, gloves to protect your hands from plants that may sting (the humble nettle) and thorns, and a basket/container or three. Don’t forget to wear long trousers and long-sleeved tops to protect your arms and legs from natural nasties such as ticks (find out more about ticks here.)