Catherine Devaney, the founder of Fife-based catering company Harper & Lime, makes the most of seasonal wild garlic in her cooking and reveals her love for her kitchen.
If it wasn’t for the necessity of a bed, and a bathroom, I would happily live out my days in a kitchen.
Actually, I would probably even consider one of those old fashioned box beds that used to nestle in the corner of a kitchen, ending each day pulling back the little curtains and waking each morning to the comfort of the room where I spend most of every day.
If I had an Aga – which I don’t, I can’t quite let go of a gas flame for cooking – I can just imagine curling up in front of it on a rug like the dog.
There’s something about a kitchen (probably warmth, mainly) which exerts its own gravitational pull.
I’ve been thinking a lot, in the recent lockdown, about what my kitchen means to me. It doubles as a haven of escape and solitude, as well as a place to gather, share and laugh. Recently it’s been school room, breakfast room, lunch room and art studio to boot, with a few crimson stains from a lava lamp experiment serving as a permanent reminder of wintery lockdown days.
Now, once again, it’s a place to potter uninterrupted, whether cooking, cradling a cup of tea or simply sitting quietly at the table working on the laptop or gazing out of the window at the birds in the garden. There’s a quiet comfort in an empty kitchen that other rooms simply can’t compete with.
Perhaps it’s the resonance of shared meals, of stories told and secrets shared over coffees and glasses of wine, the memories of friends who have come and gone and propped babies up on the island, dropping tears and smiles into our tea, or the enveloping sense of safety born of a place that is dedicated to sustenance, sharing food and company.
I don’t think a kitchen is ever empty really, just waiting, patiently, for the next person to come and share their day over a warm scone and some fresh coffee.
Over the years I’ve had many kitchens and all of them, even the dingiest of student kitchens with the most questionable carpets and cupboards full of tins of condensed soup, had one thing in common – and not simply that they were the best place to be at a party (remember those?!).
The common denominator is that they have all been places where I have truly listened, and been listened to, and had the most honest of conversations. I’ve ended – and begun – relationships in kitchens.
I’ve confessed guilty secrets, shared secret hopes, cried until I thought I could never stop, watched my daughter learn to walk, buckled under sleep-deprived frustration and gained the confidence of strangers.
All whilst chopping something, stirring something, kneading, baking or throwing together something in a pan. There are days, recently, when I long for the time when the kitchen will be full again with other people’s bustle and chat, with coffee mugs to fill and friends to lean over the island while I chop and stir. Yes I can FaceTime, and Zoom, whilst I chop but it’s never quite the same.
Okay not to be okay
If you’re struggling just now, you’re not alone. Like long-distance runners, we’re all fatigued and unable to contemplate the prospect of yet more miles to endure, of loneliness or boredom or just that slightly flat feeling of being a bit done with it all.
I hear a lot of advice about being kind to yourself, to recognise that it’s okay not to be okay, which of course is true but perhaps easier to say than to do. That kind of kindness, for me right now, is to be found in a warm kitchen with the sound of the kettle boiling and the smell of something simple roasting in the oven.
It’s in the kitchen that I can re-set my inner switches and breathe. Give me a kitchen table, a radio, a mug and a tea bag and I can face just about anything I reckon.
And even though I love to cook, and cook for a living, it doesn’t mean I always want to. There are days when I simply want to be looked after, and fed and cared for. But then that’s the funny thing about the changing seasons, because just when you think you can’t possibly thole another dark morning or another repetitive bowl of soup, along comes a sunny spring day and you suddenly notice that something has shifted.
Patch of snowdrops
There’s a certain warmth in the sun, the angle of the sunlight on the kitchen wall is different, there’s a patch of snowdrops or a daffodil waiting to burst open… and this weekend the wild garlic arrived.
The harbinger of warmer days and the rundown to Easter, wild garlic bursts along waterways and woodlands with a vividly green, pungent intensity that is irresistibly exciting. It’s the glimmer of freshness to liven up salads, pasta sauces and raise a bowl of buttery new potatoes to ambrosial standards.
It’s one of those magical ingredients, exciting to stumble upon and all the more special because its season is so fleeting. It’s best plucked when the leaves are young and glossy; if left too long they become tough and lose some of that intense freshness that is so delicious.
The first job of the wild garlic season, once you’ve found a patch to plunder, is gather as much as you can of this spring bounty and fill your freezer full to bursting with wild garlic butter.
This will see you through the summer, when lockdown is a distant memory, with a stash of incredibly flavoured butter to baste fish, finish off barbecued steaks, toss through pasta or new potatoes and make wild garlic bread.
Simply finely chop the leaves (with the sharpest knife you can), mix through softened butter and add a generous pinch of sea salt. Then spread the butter out on a piece of cling film and shape into a log, roll up in the cling film and twist each end so that you have a solid log shape ready to stow in the fridge or freezer.
For now, a wild garlic chicken Kiev is a Sunday treat which is well worth the little effort it takes. Once you’ve made the garlic butter, cut a deep pocket in the chicken breast (but don’t slice all the way through and fill with as much garlic butter as you can. Brush some beaten egg around the open pocket edges and then press together to seal, before chilling the chicken in the fridge for at least an hour.
Next, roll each chicken breast in some plain flour to lightly coat them, then dip in beaten egg (loosened with a splash of milk), then coat by dipping in panko breadcrumbs. Then dip in the egg again, before a final coating of breadcrumbs to finish off. This can all be prepared in advance and kept in the fridge until you’re ready to cook the chicken.
Next, preheat the oven to 200C and heat a generous splash of oil in a frying pan (the more oil you use the more complete and golden the seal will be). When the oil is hot, fry the kievs on both sides until golden then transfer to the oven for 30 minutes or until cooked through, then season with salt before serving. Don’t worry if some of the butter has leaked, simply baste it over the chicken.
There are so many ways to use wild garlic in everyday dishes. Try stirring through an unctuously creamy mushroom risotto, or use it to add a little zing to an asparagus and pea risotto. Add to a potato soup, blitzing with some spinach to intensify the vivid green colour.
Fry in a little butter and make the most delicious garlic mushrooms. Substitute for normal garlic in a pasta sauce, you’ll find the flavour is a little milder and less overpowering. So hunt it down, experiment and don’t be afraid of it, it’s one of the most exciting and short-lived ingredients in the spring larder. It’s a tangible reminder that everything passes and will be gone before we know it.