Bärlauch grows from little bulbs in spring, a little like the wild onion-weed plants, but with a finer tulip-style leaf. And if you know the onion-weed, you can imagine the smell of bärlauch. Here, it bursts out on the seasonal menus as vigorously as it does on the forest floor – so vigorously there that I’ve seen this tender shoot speared right through a dried leaf.
The taste is oniony/garlicky – and it appears for a brief season as soup, in noodles, in
meat-balls, in almost everything that could possibly carry its distinctive flavour.
As I write this, Mani is processing the batch we picked yesterday. He has blanched it, and is chopping it fine to put in his famous Knöpfli – very delicate meatball he makes to his grandmother’s recipe.
Our wild gathering was done in the forest on the other side of the Alter Rhein. The Alter Rhein – the old Rhine – is the residual part of the river left after the New Rhine was channelled out to the lake, Bodensee or Lake Constance, as a flood-control measure.
On one side is Switzerland, where we have our little holiday house in Altenrhein. On the other is Austria. Between, the Alter Rhein forms both the border, and a nature reserve full of wild-fowl. The border was once meaningful. Mani and his friends had fierce stone-and-insult-throwing battles with Austrian boys during the war. Now, cycle-ways run along either side, and we often bike up one side, over the bridge, and down the other to the forest where there’s a summer-time café, and a great swimming spot.
Postscript: Bärlauch translates as bear-leek – and I love the idea of bears happily snuffling about getting their greens in spring. No bears around here – but there’s a Swiss conversation about co-existense with the large wild animals, as bears, wolves and lynxes are re-establishing territories where sheep now graze.