Skull Gang Foraging Club: Ramson Radness
They sailed slowly beneath the bridge on which we stood. The driver, or captain, or pilot – the guy with the pole – looked unsteady. The boat rocked from side to side as he shifted his feet, searching for balance. The horse-faced students being driven about lay slumped happily on the cushions, laughing in that way only the privileged of Britain can. Punts.
We were in Cambridge. We had come for a dog, but that was the future. In the present we stood amongst the polite landscapes of St Johns College. Rolling, perfectly flat, and brilliantly green grass spread between the majestic oaks and straight paths designed to accentuate the grandness of the buildings all around. The grass was not to be walked on, and most of the buildings closed to the public. Tourists and visitors followed sign posted paths, and students who believed too much marched orderly in the streets.
There is an inherent nostalgia, and romanticism, to places like Cambridge. You imagine dreaming students at ancient stone windows, and dark wood panelled libraries silent but for the creak of old books (bound in human skin), and the swish of student’s robes. The great halls, magnificent drunken professors, and secret societies all exist here somewhere, beyond our reach. Really they’re just twats in boats and rugby jerseys.
We walked on their grass, ignored their signs, and foraged the fuck out of their land. The school is separated from the normals by walls and water. Shallow canals crisscross the grounds, and their grassy banks are the perfect place to find ramsons, or wild garlic.
Wild garlic is fairly common in damp woodlands and grassy banks throughout the country. It appears in thick, grass-like spears, usually growing in large colonies. The leaves are dark green, flat and wide with no ridges, and are unmistakeable in their smell. The garlic aroma can be so strong that you can smell large colonies before seeing them.
Unlike cultivated garlic it is the leaves of the ramsons, rather than the bulb, that are eaten. They have a slightly milder, fresher taste than normal garlic and can be used as a substitute in most dishes. They can also be eaten raw, chopped roughly and put in salads or sandwiches. We made a pesto, because pesto goes with everything.
All you need to do is blend the ramsons with half of their weight in shallots, walnuts and finely grated Parmesan cheese. So if you had 100g of wild garlic you would add 50g of shallots, 50g nuts, and 50g cheese. Blend, gradually adding olive or rapeseed oil, until you have achieved desired consistency. Add some good sea salt and sugar to taste (generally half as much sugar as salt), and bottle in sterilised jars. If sealed correctly the pesto should last up to a month in the fridge.