‘THE WILD GARLIC HARVEST’
For more than twenty-five years Biddy White Lennon has been a full time freelance journalist specialising in food, hospitality and tourism. She has published eleven books about traditional Irish food, its history, its seasonal and festive significances, its recipes its ingredients, giving her, it seems very little time to sleep.
Twenty years ago now The Strawberry Tree Restaurant produced its first Wild Garlic Pesto and has been doing so ever since. Tim Daly and James Kavanagh unwittingly inherited this mantle (and indeed the recipe) a goodly number of years ago, and indeed it is they that organise the Crew for the annual forage every April to gather our Wild Garlic.
Lorna Doyle has been running our Store Rooms Shop in Macreddin Village since, well since, forever! Its Lorna that keeps the Store Rooms brimming with stock and its Lorna that takes the pre-orders from guests anxiously staking their claim for their annual pesto-stock-up every year well before the Wild Garlic has even appeared.
My acquaintance with wild garlic began, on boyhood camping trips to Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow. There was a wooded pathway there with a green carpet and the evocative name of Onion Dell that every spring yielded a heady scent of garlic and onions.
But it was the ever eccentric Gerard M. King from Connemara, way back in the eighties that imparted, during foraging walks, his extensive, infectious knowledge on the culinary uses of wild herbs, wild greens and indeed wild garlic that still affects the menu in The Strawberry Tree to this day.
When The Strawberry Tree originally opened its doors in Killarney back in 1988, we were astounded at the sheer quantity of wild garlic sprouting nearby, particularly in the Killarney National Park. It was only a matter of months before our punchy Strawberry Tree Wild Garlic Pesto was born, years before everyone else hopped on the bandwagon, and thanks to our secret recipe it was soon irrevocably linked with the restaurant. It’s a serious pesto; a pesto with attitude, a pesto that will slap you in the face with the unmistakably strong taste of wild natural garlic and its lush woodland dwellings, and our recipe has barely changed in the years since.
When we relocated The Strawberry Tree to Macreddin Village in 1999 our good friend Biddy, who had a ready supply of garlic growing on her own land in Enniskerry, came to our rescue. Biddy’s generosity in sharing her hoard, in addition to the supplies we gathered from a number of other secret spots we stumbled upon, allowed us to continue to make our pesto. As a thank-you, a fat hamper from The Strawberry Tree found its way to Biddy’s doorstep each year. Five years ago, when Biddy sold her house in search of greener pastures, the new owners were carefully instructed that the restaurant would inherit the wild garlic rights; and, in return, the annual hamper continues to appear on their doorstep!
Being late spring, Tim, James and The Crew have been gathering the garlic in massive amounts, picking the shiny green blades in their thousands and hauling them back to the Macreddin kitchens in as many bags and baskets as we can find. Tim and James still guard our recipe jealously, along with our clandestine gathering spots hidden in the deep vales of Wicklow. Our pantry will soon be packed to the brim with our dark, glossy green pesto. And Lorna has once more, on the shelves in The Store Rooms, the vintage 2010 Wild Garlic Pesto. Lorna, although she strenuously denies it, also has a hidden hoard of pre-ordered Pesto for certain customers…..you know who you are!