Monday, April 14, 2014

Field garlic butter

Field garlic (Allium vineale) is one of the earliest plants to appear in local woodlands, fields, lawns and city lots, after winter. It looks a lot like chives. The leaves are hollow, and they smell strongly of garlic.

This is an invasive weed, meaning, it out-competes native flora.

If you have field garlic growing nearby in a clean spot, it is a very good fresh herb and a wonderful, aromatic vegetable, with all the best attributes of shallots, scallions and garlic.

When I collect field garlic I look for a spot where the ground is quite soft, and not too rocky; woodlands with all their accumulated leaf litter, are perfect. Compact soil makes field garlic impossible to pull, unless you have a trowel. I also look for the fattest leaves, which belong to the larger, more mature bulbs, underground. I grasp all the leaves in a clump, grip hard, and pull. Then I knock the bunch against the ground or a log to dislodge as much debris as possible, and finally choose my fat bulbs from amongst the very small grassy ones.

Do not be tempted to take the whole bunch with you. When you get home you will have lost the drive to sort out each and every little garlic bulb and you will go bonkers and wonder whose idea it was to go foraging, anyway. Spend a little extra time in the field to do your sorting

And you are doing the environment a big, fat favour.

At home, wash the field garlic in at least two changes of water, in the (clean!) kitchen sink or a very large bowl. Strip off any loose skins from the bulbs, and discard any dead leaves. Dry well. If the stem-like part between bulb and leaves is tough, discard it, otherwise chop finely with the leaves.

Field garlic butter

A compound butter is any butter that has been encouraged to take on the flavour of something else. Truffles, say. But we don't have any truffles. We have field garlic. And here is a wonderful way to preserve its aroma for months. I made this butter last year for the first time using ramp leaves (more sustainable than harvesting the whole ramp, in sensitive spots, and very delicious).

(Yes, you may substitute chives. Add another cupful of chives to stand in for the field garlic bulbs.)

4 sticks/440 gr unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups chopped field garlic greens (clean, and very dry)
1/2 cup cleaned field garlic bulbs

Cut the butter into chunks and drop into the bowl of a food processor. Add the chopped greens and the field garlic bulbs. Pulse until well mixed, pausing every now and then to scrape down the sides.

If you don't have a food processor, chop all the field garlic very finely. Mix the butter with the field garlic in a large bowl, with a wooden spoon.

Pack the compounded butter into small, sterilized jars and freeze, or use within one week. Keep cold.

How to use field garlic butter? Well, any way you would use ramp butter. Or:

Melted, and poured over a poached egg, on good sourdough toast
Slathered over hot, baked potatoes
Whipped into egg yolks for deviled eggs
Stirred into hot tagliatelle, with a squeeze of lemon and a grating of bottarga
Dabbed onto a rested steak, hot off the grill



  1. I was going to ask you if I could have a jar, but I am now on a mission to find field garlic, and will attempt to make this! I am drooling!

  2. Thanks for sharing the field garlic, I haven't found that before, although I we will usually process 100+lbs of ramps every spring at the restaurant. Looking at the recipe method, I wonder if you might want to try blanching the green tops beforehand, then mincing, pureeing in a blender, mixing with the butter, then passing the mixture through a tamis sieve or screen to remove the stringy green particles (since a food processor's motor is not strong enough to pulverize them like a vitamix, blendtec, pacojet or thermomix can.) Afterwords the bulbs can be chopped and mixed in to the smooth, green butter. Blanching the greens before hand would also preserve the green chlorophyll and keep the butter bright and verdant looking. Nice website, and thanks for sharing; you're Abbachio alla Romana gave me a nice flashback to the Italians I used to work with :)

    1. Thank you Alan. That's a lot of ramps! Damn.

      For the oil I make (it's behind the butters in the picture, I do strain the particles out). Makes it more versatile.

      The blanching idea is a good one - thanks. However...I've never lost colour, perhaps because I freeze the butter unless it's for immediate use?

      Your website it great. I'll add it to my list.

  3. At this time of year in our paddocks, the field garlic forms large clumps about two feet high. The goats snap whole bunches at the base and then slowly chew their way up to the tips. The next day, we make cheese from the "tainted" milk. Similar process: different food processor?

    1. And is the cheese garlicky?

    2. Depends on the quantity, which we try to monitor. Right now the cheese is more "bright" and "spicy". It tastes like, well, spring! If the goats eat too much however, 1) their breath stinks more than I care to describe, 2) the cheese flavor gets overpowered by the dank and musty side of alium flavor -- think old onions that are starting to go soft in the middle. Or maybe don't.


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