Unboxed: Garlic

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Plastic tables at the farmer’s market are straining under their bounty, colors are popping from veggies of every stripe and new garlic is out of the ground, drying on racks and tarps and hanging in braids in barns around the country, the smell of fresh heads mixing with the with last year’s pungent hay.

I went up to Goshen, NY, to help my friend and employer Eugene pull garlic on Monday. This favored allium is his only vegetable crop. He raises lambs for wool and meat, which he sells at the Union Square farmer’s market in New York City. The garlic goes with the lamb on a number of levels, for one thing, lamb is great with garlic. For another, Eugene plants thousands of cloves in November straight into a nutritious spread of old hay and sheep manure. That’s what accounts for the extraordinary size of these Porcelain beauties. Some were more than three inches in diameter!

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The next day I headed to my community garden here in Brooklyn to pull up my own garlic, which has been in ground since December of last year. My lamb party kitchen and garlic 065poor little babies didn’t get as much TLC as Gene’s, which were mulched in the winter and weeded twice weekly by hand all summer. Mine were planted late, snow was their only mulch, and in the summer, while I weeded them, I didn’t have to do it too often, since the soil in my garden is relatively tired out from a decade of use by eager brooklynite-immigrants from agricultural isles. This fall I’ll be mixing in some cover crops and compost to see if I can’t leave the soil in better shape than I found it.

Anyhow, so what if they’re small! This is my first time growing garlic, and I can’t believe that every single clove I planted sprouted four to six more just like it. Garlic heads don’t separate into cloves until just a few weeks before they’re ready, hence the onion-like shape of spring garlic. Occasionally, you’ll find a genetic mutant in your patch, a single huge clove that’s solid on the inside, on the outside surrounded by papery layers like other garlic is. In any case, Garlic is part of the allium, or lilly family, allong with onions and leeks, but it’s got even more nutritional bonus points than they do. The sulphurous flavor comes from powerful compounds, which, in addition to Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Manganese, Selenium, Calcium, Copper, Phosphorus and Thiamin, account for garlics many benefits. It’s an anti-oxidant, an anti-inflammatory, and an anti-bacterial food. It helps reduce the carcinogenic properties of meat when cooked with it, and is believed to protect the body against certain risks for heart disease, such as hardening of the arteries due to plaque build-up. In addition, it’s delicious, and, as shown above, pretty easy to grow.

To plant garlic, start in the fall. At planting time, separate out the largest cloves from the nicest heads you can find. It’s best to use organic garlic, prafarably from a small farmer instead of a supermarket, since you can be pretty sure that a small farmer isn’t spraying the garlic with anti-sprouting chemicals to keep it from getting ahead of itself in the cupboard. If you’re not sure, you can always ask. Separate out the cloves, being sure not to remove lamb party kitchen and garlic 063the individual skin around each clove, and plant them pointed end up, about two inches into the soil. Garlic likes soil with lots of organic matter in it, and it likes it not too wet, though, as I said, Gene planted his directly into sheep poop, and it turned out great. You may want to lay down some mulch, a loose layer of straw works great, or, since it’ll be the middle of Autumn and your tomatoes will all have died, you can throw down the vines over the top of the cloves, if you have enough plants for them to provide any protection. According to my friend the veggie farmer Dominique, the mulch helps to keep the wind off the cloves in winter, to keep them from dying, then rotting in the thaw.  It also keeps weeds down, which, if you’ve got better soil than mine, are a big problem for thin little stalks of garlic.

When you get it out of the ground in the middle of the next summer, you should dry your garlic somewhere dark with plenty of air circulation. A hardneck variety like Gene’s Porcelain, will keep until about February if dried, at which point they disappear in a puff of smoke. Softnecks like red Rocambole can be braided and hung from the walls and rafters, which is quite pretty, and will last longer dried out. You can blanch and freeze garlic, or roast it and keep the paste. I lacto ferment mine with my dill pickles (off of Sandor Katz’ recipe) and then cook with the fermented cloves. Wrapping a piece of cod or halibut up with a few of those redolent beauties makes for excellent eating.

lamb party kitchen and garlic 067Given the size of Gene’s garlic though, there was one clear and obvious choice – roasting. I cut the top right off a head, poured olive oil directly into the oddly chambered chalice it revealed, and sprinted on a bit of salt. I turned the oven up to 400 and stuck in the whole head for about 40 minutes, until the head was deep brown and the cloves were soft. Then I squeezed each carmelized, buttery clove onto thick chunks of whole wheat bread and felt real goof about summer. For oven efficiency, try this method, which uses a cupcake pan to excellent effect.

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One Response to “Unboxed: Garlic”

  1. Leah Koenig Says:

    I love roasted garlic – I can’t believe it took me almost a quarter of a decade to figure that out.

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