Field garlic season approaches. The invasive weed’s green chive spikes appear early, through snow and brown leaf litter. They can be collected at any time, but after many years I’ve learned that late April through May yields the fattest, firmest bulbs.
It is best to sort them as you gather, saving you from a muddy mess at home. Don’t yank out a whole clump, or you’ll be stuck separating the maddeningly tiny bulbs, like rice grains, from the choice thumbnail-size ones forever. Instead, choose only the most prominent leaves in a bunch, grab them very close to the base and pull, giving several firm tugs to release them from the soil. Shake well to dislodge any earth. Pick oodles more than you think you will need; they are worth the work, and you will want to keep some to eat fresh, too.
At home, cut the bulbs from the greens (which you should turn into field garlic oil and green salt) and wash in several changes of water, pulling off any loose skin. Now they are ready to pickle.
Field garlic pickles
Enterprising farmers bring wild field garlic to markets. Each spring I regularly see bunches at the Union Square Greenmarket. Otherwise, substitute pickling onions, or scallions where an actual bulb is visible.
5 cups cleaned field garlic (white bulb and some stem)
1½ cups white wine vinegar
2½ cups water
3 tablespoons salt
¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
Wash the field garlic well and pat dry. If necessary (it depends on the time of year) skin off the outer, loose layers to reveal the firm bulb.
Put the raw field garlic into sterilized glass jars (I sterilize by baking the washed jars at 300°F/150°C for 20 minutes).
In a medium saucepan, bring the white wine vinegar and 2½ cups of water to a boil with the salt, brown sugar, mustard seeds and peppercorns. Bring the pickling ingredients to a boil in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour over the garlic in the jars. When cool, screw the lids on tightly and store them in the fridge
Read Marie Viljoen’s full article about using pickled wild foods in cocktails here.