Spring is sprung once more and along with the flowers and buds and copious quantities of mud, there comes something else which I had never seen before moving to Germany. It’s now something I look forward to every spring as it’s only there for such a short season you kind of blink and it’s already over. Bärlauch.
I didn’t even know the English term for it, which officially is Ramsons. Some people simply call it wild garlic, or bears garlic. It’s a bright green shoot, looks a bit like a leaf which springs directly from the floor of shadowy forrested areas. So whilst you’re unlikely to find it springing up in the middle of Berlin itself, if you head to some of the bigger parks or out to one of the many forest areas outside the city you’ll see it all over – assuming you’re there in the right time of year. Which is now. Mid-March to early April there are veritable carpets of the stuff.
wrapped in plastic or freshly plucked
You can of course buy it wrapped in plastic in the supermarkets for €2.50 a bunch, but for me it’s just a joy to pick my own out wandering in the forest. It tastes like a cross between garlic and leeks and makes a fantastic pesto if you don’t mind having garlic breath from hell for a couple of hours. It’s also great sprinkled through salad or on top of a Frittata. Though a word to the wise – avoid cooking it, as the flavour almost completely disappears. Best is to eat it raw in combination with other things.
The taste of spring
For me Bärlauch really is the first taste of spring. Before the leaves make their spectacular comeback, the bärlauch bring a welcome bright green to the landscape after the grey of long winter months. And I like to imagine in the ‘Ye Olde Days’ before things like refridgeration and global food transport companies, people were eating a farly limited diet in winter. Dried foods, pickled foods, meat and a couple of hearty winter veg like cabbage or kale usually boiled until it was dead – over and over and over for the winter period. Not much fresh flavour. And then Bärlauch appears and suddenly you have the taste of spring – sweet yet spicy, garlicky and fresh it would have breathed a welcome (if whiffy) puff of flavour into the end of winter diet for many people. A sign of fresher things to come.
So now, in this globalised world where we can eat avocados from Israel and asparagus from south america if we so choose, the Bärlauch springing up in March is a reminder that food used to be a lot more difficult to come by, and every little seasonal shift would be noticed and used enjoyed and celebrated. So I celebrate early spring by smelling like garlic. Bring on the Bärlauch!