Photography by Annabel Elston
The light was still dim as we pulled the door of our apartment closed behind us. While Mike struggled with the lock, I double checked my tote to be sure we had everything we would need: paper bags, pruners, snacks – all there. The tolling of the church bell down the street confirmed the time on my watch: 7 am. Just enough time to make it to the docks for the first ferry departure.
It had rained during the night and the stone steps leading up to the street were shiny and plastered with blown down leaves. Everything smelled like rain. It was a smell I hadn't gotten used to yet, the smell of rain in Cornwall. You think it will be things like the accent, the language, the driving on the opposite side of the road that will disarm you. But it's always the smells. The smells of a foreign country are the single most disorienting thing: familiar but strange all at once, a subtle yet constant reminder that you are away from home.
Falmouth had a distinct perfume of scents that I was beginning to recognize now as we headed downhill towards the town. The sea, a metallic undertone of seaweed and salt. The savoury aroma of pasties that seemed to have absorbed into the very brickwork of the buildings. Bus fumes and coffee. Something deeply fragrant and sweet, like moss or pine-needles. And now, it being spring, the pervasive note of wild garlic hanging along the roadsides, over people's gardens, everywhere. It was the wild garlic, in fact, that we were after.
Searching for wild edibles is something I've always done; a way to get to know the place I'm living by eating directly from its wild coffers. In Seattle, we would go scrambling up the Cascades looking for wild blueberries. In Vermont, we waded through swampy forests stalking fiddelhead ferns. And here, on the coast of Cornwall, it was wild garlic. A friend had given us a tip that the woodland around Flushing, just on the other side of the bay from Falmouth, was rampant with them. So here we were, tramping through the early morning streets with our paper bags and our pruners, with the hope we would find enough to make the stuff baked potatoes I had in mind for dinner.
The ferry was just pulling up when we arrived at the docks. An old man holding a little Jack Russell terrier was the only other passenger. The captain seemed to know both the man and the dog well, and I spent most of the short trip across the bay listening to them gossip about a women named Helen who neither of them seemed to like. The water was oddly still and made a perfect mirror for all the boats anchored in the bay. It was all so mesmerizing that I didn't even notice the approach to Flushing until the boat jerked up against the landing. We disembarked and the old man scrambled off down a side street with his dog while we headed out of the sleepy town towards the country, the sun climbing up over the sea behind us.
We trumped across a few farmer's fields, carefully avoiding the mounds of cow pies, until we found ourselves on a woodland trail tunnelled by freshly leaved trees. Not a wild garlic plant in site. A stream, yes, bluebells, yes – but no wild garlic. We walked along in silence, searching the ground for the familiar smooth green leaves and white flower heads. It was ten minutes at least before we came upon one small scraggly cluster hidden behind a tree. 'Are you sure Emily knows what wild garlic is?' Mike asked. I shrugged, unable yet to admit defeat.
We walked along a little further and I was just about to suggest we give up when my nose pricked up. It was that smell. Pervasive and pungent, like a leek sizzling in a hot pan. It was so strong. 'Maybe just a little further?' I begged him. 'Around this corner?' The smell was like a wall, and even before we rounded the bend I knew what we would find. A sea of wild garlic, stretching out in all directions without end. Our bags were filled up in minutes. And I felt, as we headed back with our paper bags stuffed to the brim, the pungent smell of garlic surrounding us like a cloud, that Cornwall smelled just a little bit more familiar.
Go foraging from one of our Falmouth cottages>
About the author:
Danielle Charles-Davies is an American writer and self-professed anglophile. In 2012, she upped her entire family – cats and all – to the other side of the Atlantic for a year-long working vacation in Cornwall.