The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Foraging Rocambole (Sand Leek, Spanish Garlic): an edible alternative to wild garlic

Rocambole - edible alliumThere’s a lane that I often drive through on the outskirts of Dullingham village. It is called Eagle Lane and runs beside a large estate.

At the top of the lane there are a pair of vast palace sized ornamental gates with a gate house just beyond, snug amongst the trees. A good half mile down the road, two large stone eagles guard anther wide entrance. These old eagles sit aloft high stone posts. They are large and distract the eye from the entrance.

On close examination, the entrance reveals nothing but a haze of trees, wispy green and shafts of sunlight. A mysterious place that I have yet to explore.

I often wonder whether the lane is named after these imperious eagles or vice versa.

One night last winter I noticed that there were lights on in the gate house. Someone had moved in. I fancied that it was the groundsman that I had spotted tending the boundaries of the estate. Rather neglected, this fencing needed attention.

He spent days digging and clearing and then planted yards of tiny saplings, each with a sturdy rabbit proof guard. Having completed this mission he spent two days raking the leaves on the deep verges into an extended line of small piles. On the third day I noticed him shoveling each leafy hummock into a vast estate sized wheel barrow. Slow steady work – it’s a long stretch.

This evening Jalopy and I were tootling up Eagle Lane. We hadn’t passed this way for weeks. I was casting an eye over the verges in the faint hope of finding wild garlic. Suddenly large pools of green and white beckoned. It wasn’t Ransomes but a smaller variety of allium. When I opened Jalopy’s door the wafts of garlic drew me instantly across the road. I thought that it was a pool of Rocambole and a quick foray into Food for Free by Richard Maybe confirmed this.

We are going back tomorrow and plan to make pounds of garlic butter for the freezer, freeze and dry bunches for soup and stews and generally have fun with this free foraging bounty.

Richard Maybe writes that Rocambole is found in northern England and Scotland. But I’ve found wonderful, nodding pools of it on the Suffolk/Cambridgeshire border. Perhaps a generous spirited northern visitor from Scotland or the North tossed some bulbs out of a pocket years ago.

Rocambole is a species of leek (Allium scorodoprasum) indigenous to northern Europe. Apparently it was used as an alternative to garlic or shallot in the early 18th century. The bulbs and stems are used in the same way as wild garlic. There’s an interesting reference to Rocambole here from Prospect Books.

I also found an ancient recipe for green pickled walnuts that lists Rocambole as an ingredient on this intersting Australian site. Pickled walnuts are superb. If there’s a tree near you, barter the promise of a jar of their own pickled walnuts as a swap for some of their green fruit. Beware, they might bite your arm off next year if you don’t offer the same trade again.

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  1. I think you’ll find that the plant you have photographed is in fact Few-flowered Leek (Allium paradoxum)- and whilst edible and ok in your garden, it’s probably worth knowing that it’s considered invasive in the UK and an offence to plant in the wild: So the upside is that presumably it’s more than acceptable to remove/harvest from th wild either to plant at home or just eat.

  2. hi just wondering if you know anywhere i can buy rocambole garlic and snow mountain garlic for planting at home . thanks

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Minamoo

    I do hope that your studies are going well!

    I will definitely try the pesto.

    Thanks for the tip about drying the leaves. Funnily enough the garlic smell from the sand leeks slowly vanished afer a few days. So they need to be used very fresh, I think.

  4. Minamoo

    Ooh forgot to say, I wouldn’t advise drying them as you would lose the vast majority (if not all) of their flavour. you’d be far better off freezing them if you have the space. 🙂

  5. Minamoo

    Hello Fiona!

    So good to see that you found such a lovely alternative to wild garlic! I haven’t found any of those near me yet but I have been told of a spot where three cornered leeks grow so I may be off to go find those if I have the time. I have a friend coming over for dinner tonight and will be making some pasta with wild garlic pesto. I would suggest you try making some pesto too and freezing it in little cubes to then use later in the year. It’s really easy to make, all you need is a handful each of freshly toasted pine nuts, good parmesan cheese, wild garlic/sand leek leaves and a good glug of olive oil. You just need to blanch the leaves for a few seconds to soften them before buzzing them into a puree in a food processor thingy. It tastes absolutely fabulous!

    Anyhoo…..I have to get back to work now. Toodles!

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Magic Cochin

    The Old Foodie is great! I only recently discovered it myself.

    I have a passion for pickled walnuts and must try to find some green ones this year to give them a go. There is so much knocking about in the cottage (mess) that I doubt if we’d even be fazed by a few trays of salted walnuts!

    I’m also determined to find new (to me) tings to forage in the spring and summer. Foraging has always been an autumn pursuit. It was so good to take a bunch of Rocambole to a friend in Saffron Walden today.

    Hi Sally

    You might be lucky. I think that it also grows wild in Greece so it may grow in Italy.

    My penultimate hairdresser Phillip (retired) used to make a wonderful Italian digestive from green walnuts and pure alcohol (and presumably sugar). I never tasted it but it might be worth looking this up as he loved it.

  7. I looked up Rocambole on the web because it sounds so interesting. I’m going to keep an eye out, but from your geographical explanation, I’m not very optimistic.

    I’m a bit of a fan of pickled walnuts, but have never tried making them. I brought a jar over as a present for a neighbour last winter. They didn’t go down very well – guess it’s one of those Marmite things.

  8. magic cochin

    Thank you so much for the link to The Old Foodie “ what a goldmine of information. (It could distract me from work for hours!!!!!)

    We love pickled walnuts – perfect with good ham or cured meats so you MUST do some this June to accompany your Cheveley Charcouterie. Cliff made some a few years ago – they’re a labour of love and I have to admit that for endless days we had trays of salted green walnuts turning black sitting around the house, so when it came to the actual pickling we rushed it and the spicing of the various vinegars could have been better!! Maybe we’ll have another stab at perfecting the technique this year.

    I’ll look out for Rocambole when we’re navigating the lanes on the Cambs/Suffolk border. There are so many plants that are edible.


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