Spring is in the air, and whilst this time of year is traditionally known as 'the hungry gap' by British farmers (for its lack of fresh produce to harvest), there's still a wealth of seasonal garlic treats available to spice up your meals. From Wild Garlic leaves to the garlic scapes that are starting to shoot forth, read on to discover all the delicious garlic varieties you can indulge in until the new season's garlic is ready to harvest.
Also known as 'ramsons', 'buckrams' or bear's garlic, wild garlic grows in dappled woodlands throughout the UK, often in damp ground in the shade of deciduous trees. You will almost certainly smell wild garlic before you see it, as the distinctive scent of garlic will announce its presence more emphatically than the glossy, green leaves, which can be mistaken for lily of the valley. Unlike cultivated garlic, wild garlic bulbs are tiny and bitter, so leave them intact and forage a few of the mild-flavoured leaves. If you're unsure whether you have the right plant, rub a leaf between your fingers and the smell of fresh garlic will verify its authenticity! We usually sell a few pots of wild garlic plants at the farm, so you can buy some to grow at home - although we do advise cultivating it in pots, as it can quickly take over a garden. The chopped leaves make a delicious pesto, but can also be added to all your favourite dishes or salads for a subtle injection of garlic that is milder than raw garlic cloves: try snipping into an omelette and sautéed mushrooms, or chop into boiled new potatoes, as you might chives. Wild garlic season begins in early Spring and lasts until the plants begin to flower - but the pesto freezes well, or blitz the dried-out leaves with sea-salt for a year-round enhancement of wild garlic salt.
Before hardneck garlic bulbs fully mature and are ready to be harvested, they throw out long, curly scapes. Because these divert food and energy away from the precious garlic bulbs, we snip the scapes off, enabling the garlic bulb to increase in size and flavour. But the scapes don't go to waste, and the long, straight scapes from our Elephant Garlic are a prized delicacy, with a culinary resemblance to asparagus. If you grow your own garlic, you have access to your very own faux-asparagus harvest. Otherwise, look out for them in the farm shop from Mid-may onwards. We love to eat them barbecued or roasted with an aioli dipping sauce, but they can also double up as spring onions in recipes and are delicious in risotto.
For a few short months each year, before the majority of our Isle of Wight garlic has fully matured, green garlic makes a very special gourmet treat. Also known as 'wet' garlic, the immature garlic bulbs and edible green stalks can be enjoyed from mid-May onwards, and add an intriguing spike of flavour without being over-powering. Milder and lighter than fully-fledged garlic cloves, green garlic has a nutty-oniony flavour, without the typical spiciness of mature garlic. Substitute Green Garlic for spring onions, chives or leeks - the young, tender cloves don't require peeling, since their papery skins have only just begun to form. Green garlic also lends itself to roasting - just remove the tips of the leaves, and slice the remaining bulb in half, drizzle with oil and roast for about forty minutes.
Garlic shoots make a tasty replacement to chives, and can be easily grown at home by placing a garlic bulb in a small amount of water on a window sill.