It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Arbor Day

I was talking to a friend the other night in the city about how exciting it is to watch the greens positively burst forth from the confines of the ground after a particularly long winter, and how the thrill is tempered by the frustration of waiting for them to grow. I’m desperately eager to stop buying vegetables as soon as I possibly can, and yet good-sized greens are still a few weeks away. As with so many culinary problems, the answer to this one is right outside the door.

Dandelions are still a ways off, but the ramps and nettles are coming up (I got a decent haul of ramps on Saturday with Eve, and only fell in the frigid river once) and chives, sage, mint, and oregano are all at snippable height, so at least fresh herbs are in abundance. Best of all, though, is the wild garlic. I mentioned this before, and it bears repeating as ramp madness spreads across the land. For my money, these little guys are very bit as useful as ramps and a million times more abundant. Yesterday I went out with a shovel and spent about an hour digging promising-looking clumps of them in various spots; I ended up with about five pounds. Thicker stalks mean fatter bulbs, so it’s worth being discriminating. I gave them a dirt-purging rinse in the outdoor sink and brought them inside for a thorough floating and sorting.

Edit: here’s a picture I meant to include that might help with identification:

I cut them all off right where the white turns pink and then green–much like ramps–and trimmed off the roots. All the bulbs got crammed into jars, bulbs down and then bulbs up in between the first layer, and then had a hot pickling brine poured all over them: white and homemade cider vinegars cut in half with filtered water in which I simmered mustard, coriander, peppercorns, and salt for a few minutes. Right away they were good, and after a day or so they became pungent, tangy, and irresistible. The acidity should be sufficient to keep them perfectly preserved in fridge or cupboard long after we’ve eaten them all.

Do you see those tiny, adorable little cloves in the foreground? They’re smaller than your pinky fingernail and yet perfectly formed; this is how the plant spreads and it’s why they grow in clumps. They’re way more squee-worthy than whatever the internet is all worked up over on any given day. Does Le Creuset have a Hello Kitty line yet? If so, these are cuter.

The big pile of garlic greens would not be ignored, so I picked through them to remove any brown or otherwise unappetizing parts and then cut them into roughly 2″ lengths and puréed them in the food processor for a minute or two with olive oil, cider vinegar, and some basil pesto from last summer’s haul that I had pulled out of the freezer (I freeze lots of pesto, but make it without cheese so it doesn’t get weird and chewy). This fluorescent green condiment is sharply garlicky and extremely flattering to all things meaty, including some leftover lamb neck stew stirred into Lebanese couscous they day after a nice dinner that included both items. Seriously: depending on where you live, a meaningful portion of your property might right now be covered with free, delicious wild garlic; before you go get hypothermia and poke your eye out searching for ramps on the side of a godforsaken mountain, why not take advantage of this neglected yet ubiquitous culinary underdog that grows in your yard whether you want it to or not? Free food is good food.

18 comments to It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Arbor Day

  • You might show us the leaves, too, so we know what to look for… Yes, we could Google it.

  • The only wild edible that grows near me is the purslane that attempts to overrun my tiny patch of yard evey year. Given the number or neighborhood dog walkers, I’m loath to dig any up.

  • I squee over those bitty, fingernaily garlic cloves. They are totes adorbz.

    And thanks for the idea of what to do with my garlic – it desperately needs thinning but I can’t bear to throw any little babies away.

  • Brilliant! Doing this asap. I have about three acres of these guys.

  • Jealous. Must be east coasty thing.

  • Mo

    Yum!!! Wish we had wild garlic going rampant here!

    I’m trying to like dandelion greens, since my yard is full of them. Have any good recipes? The boys and I have been enjoying all the sourgrass growing rampant around our house. Reminds me of being little and eating it with my little sister.

  • If you’re on the West Coast, look for wild onions—they’re up now in the SF Bay Area, and you can see the little nodding white cup-shaped flowers with their rich green grass-like leaves popping in everybody’s back yards. They’re pretty and tasty, good for pickling—but many gardeners consider them a pest, so you can take them away for free if you know people who don’t use chemicals in their yards.

    As always, if it looks like an onion but doesn’t smell oniony or garlicky, DON’T EAT IT.

  • Peter

    Zoomie: I added pictures.

    David: Nature walk in the burbs?

    Blanche: I can always count on you to squee.

    Julia: Yeah, if I dug them all up, I’d have hundreds of pounds.

    KaffeeKlatsch: See the last commnet.

    Mo: I love pesto made from dandelions, especially with meat: greens, garlic, lemon, ume plum, pine nuts.

  • Peter

    Kerrick: Excellent comment, thanks. I wanted to direct everyone to this, too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_garlic

  • Mo

    Yes, picked a bunch this morning to make pesto, but I’m going to use walnuts instead of pine nuts since I’m still scared to eat them after I had pine mouth last year. Terrible. Can’t wait to start hunting for wild onions!!

  • Inspired by your post, I found a bunch of wild garlic on my front lawn! I see lots of pickles my future – thanks for the idea!

  • Peter

    Mo: Pine mouth? That sounds like the first half of a Jeff Foxworthy joke.

    Kate: That’s great- I find that when plants are edible (delicious, even) that it’s much easier to not treat them as “weeds.” Let me know how they come out.

  • [...] by Peter at Cook Blog, I began the hunt for wild alliums. Not only because his pickled wild garlic looks great in jars, [...]

  • Mo

    Lol, look it up, pine mouth is a monster bitch. It made everything I ate taste like shit for over a week. Wine and chocolate were some of the worst. I have always been madly in love with pine nuts, putting them in as much as I could, but I haven’t been able to confront eating them since. And it was a real kick in the nuts because my little sister had had it a few weeks earlier and I’d been making fun of her for it. That’ll teach me!

  • [...] can’t get enough of these photos. The wild garlic that I love so well is done for the spring; all the small plants have died back, but the bigger, older ones sent up [...]

  • [...] chives, and domestic chives, all within feet of my house. And there’s snow on the ground. I wrote about the wild garlic chives here, and I have mentioned them elsewhere as well since I love them so much. Besides the fact that they [...]

  • [...] chives, and domestic chives, all within feet of my house. And there’s snow on the ground. I wrote about the wild garlic chives here, and I have mentioned them elsewhere as well since I love them so much. Besides the fact that they [...]

  • [...] from last spring as a garnish. It’s hard to exaggerate how prolific and useful this herb is. I wrote a post about it exactly three years ago that goes into much more detail. There’s a pint each of the vinaigrette and the jus left [...]

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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