April 14, 2013

ail des ours (Allium ursinum) bear's garlic

 The first time I had ever picked wild garlic was in the woods near Lake Annecy in France where I was working as a cook in a hotel in Talloires. This is a famed region for edible wild plants made popular by the three michelin starred chef Mark Veyrat. We would stand awestruck in the middle of an incredibly bright leafy floor, feet buried in green, a shock of colour which burst out from the dull spring surroundings. Nothing could be easier to spot or pick. Snip, snip and the intense smell of garlic and chives would fill the air, stain the fingers and frazzle the mouth.Enormous bags were filled in no time. Back at the restaurant we would transform them into pesto, the season's first soups and intense spring salads.

In Quebec, the 70's and 80's witnessed a boom in interest and picking of bear's garlic. Somewhere up to 6 million plants were pulled up, snipped, chopped, salted, boiled, even sold in local grocery stores, in other words, consumed. Add to this the unregulated abusive commercial interests and this plant was doomed. I could see how this could happen given the ease and speed it took in France to fill our bags.

Since march 1995 ail des ours or ramsons, buckrams, wild garlic, wood garlic, bear leek, wild leek, bear's garlic (take your pick) is protected under article 16 of the act respecting threatened or vulnerable species with a minor exception. Outside of protected zones one can pick a maximum of 50 bulbs a year for personal consumption. Let us say the equivalent of 200 grams.

Standing in the middle of a sugar maple forest, abundance meets restraint as it should, as with most things wild, and I contented myself with a few plants, a wild garlic soup at home, and as for my restaurant Renard artisan bistro, well I am happy nonetheless to work with a west coast variety, equally delicious, with their intense pungent garlic and sweet chive taste to celebrate the coming of spring.