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There’s something in the air. I almost feel as though spring has passed & we’ve moved into summer with the weather we’ve been having.

We had the first bbq of the year last night, so maybe that’s what it is. I get very excited at the changing of the seasons, particularly when it comes to food. We’ve eaten so many roots, stews & winter greens, which I love, but I know spring is really springing & summer’s just around the corner when the wild garlic comes out. Lettuce, beans & tomatoes et al aren’t far behind.

We went to Devon 2 weekends ago, beautiful sunshine and magnolias in full bloom. This is the piece I wrote then.

27th March 2011 Devon.

I’m always filled with (probably a blind) romanticism when I come down here. So much so that I think the simplest meals become something special. Maybe it’s because so many meals in our lives are more that the sum of the ingredients. And by ingredients, I don’t just mean the food.

One of the most memorable meals of my life was in Morocco, sat beside the road with a stranger I’d hitched a ride with. We ate bread, meat, cheese, fruit, and drank some water sitting between the fields worked by local people. It was hot, dry and dusty, and we sat in the shade of the trees that lined the dirt track we’d turned on to, making broken conversation with my poor French & his poor English. We shared the food we’d bought at a local market. The food was good & quite ordinary really. The table, cutlery and plates were non-existent and the conversation hardly sparkling. So in many ways all the classic ingredients for a good meal weren’t in place. Yet I remember it so vividly as being a very special time, place and meal.

Last night’s dinner was very simple, but very delicious, and, it seemed to me, a bit special. The hedgerows here are alive with wild garlic.

I find it a bit like owning a red car. As soon as you see one, you see them everywhere. The same is true of the garlic. Masses and masses of it. Not just banks, but great swathes of it up and down the lanes.

Last year I started compiling a list of places around Bristol where you could find wild garlic. This year I wasn’t that bothered about cooking or using wild garlic until we drove home with some mussels from the shop and I spotted the garlic in the hedges.

This recipe is one of the best ways of using it I feel, almost like a green vegetable in its own right. The addition of greens like spinach or wild garlic make the mussel dish a little more substantial.

Be careful not to cook all the pungency out of it, it’s much milder than cultivated garlic bulbs anyway, but it’s nice to have a bit of zip to it.

Mussels with leeks, cream, white wine and wild garlic:

For 2 as a main course with bread.

2 kg of mussels, bearded & cleaned

1 small onion, finely diced

2 small leeks, thinly sliced & washed

1-2 glasses white wine

2 fresh bay leaves

125ml or so of single cream

As much wild garlic as you like, washed & thinly shredded, say 2 big fistfuls, washed carefully.

  • Use a pot with a lid, big enough to hold all the mussels as they open. They’ll take up more room as they cook.
  • Soften the onion in a little olive oil over a medium heat.
  • Add the leeks & continue to sauté until soft.
  • Chuck in the mussels, wine & bay leaves, turn up the heat, cover & simmer until the mussels open, stirring from time to time, about 3-5 minutes.
  • Add the wild garlic, stir, a lot, & cook for a further 3 minutes until the garlic has wilted.
  • Finish with the cream, allowing it to heat through but not boil.
  • Serve in bowls with bread to mop up the juices.
    So, a simple meal, in a special time & place, which, as I say seemed much more than the sum of the ingredients.

    When I wrote this there wasn’t much garlic around Bristol, but plenty in Devon. Now it’s all over the place! Get it while you can, but only take as much as you need & leave some for others, please.

    For any help you might need finding & identifying it have a look at the link here. Even if you don’t find any, you’ll have a nice walk in the woods!

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