Given the violent vagaries of the weather this year, I might be wrong, but going out on a limb, I’ll say that spring is finally here – and hopefully, fingers crossed, here to stay, writes countryphile James Waller-Davies.
Certainly, the garden has decided to make a break for it and it’s turning out to be a great year for rhubarb and asparagus. The cherry blossom is still on the boughs but is only one wet gale away from being strewn across the lawn like confetti from a miserable wedding.
But to really appreciate spring, you need a walk through a natural woodland. A traditional English woodland is one of the country’s great natural landscapes. Yes, mountains and coastlines might win the award for the spectacular, but for the pure peacefulness and humming diversity of the natural environment, nothing comes close to native woodland on a warm spring day.
It pays to walk stealthily and you might be lucky to encounter deer, hare, squirrels and stoats. Listen carefully and you’ll hear the drubbing of woodpeckers and call of the cuckoo. And in May and early June you’ll get the blue carpets of bluebells. It’s easy to understand why English poets through the ages have been drawn to woodlands – it just writes itself.
For the forager, bluebells are clue that nearby you’re likely to find one of the best spring finds, wild garlic. With its dark green leaves and distinctive white flowers, they are one of the more easily identifiable foraging plants, though its more likely your nose will sniff them out first as the air will be full of its subtle garlic scent.
A handful of leaves are all you need and they are very versatile. Great with light pasta dishes and fish, the garlic flavour more subtle and less pungent than bulb garlic. It also adds a delicious garlic finish to salads. You can use any soft herbs with this recipe, mint, oregano, chives, parsley, but they must be fresh, not dried. But the best thing about this recipe is the walk through the woods to get the wild garlic.
500g baby new potatoes
Large bunch wild garlic
Handful mixed herbs
Squeeze of lemon juice
Boil the potatoes until cooked. Drain and leave to cool until still warm, but not cold.
Finely chop the herbs and mix into the potatoes, along with the olive oil and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Leave to infuse to 15 minutes.
To finish, finely slice the wild garlic and stir into the potatoes along with the lemon juice.