Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Garlic Goodness

Gray stripe sunflower dropping petals and drying down its seed.
Almost September. This week I started planting the cabbages, kale, broccoli and cauliflower in the garden, as well as some lettuce seedlings. Sunflowers are drying down to seed and the birds have discovered the elderberries. The climbing minature rose at the back of the garden continues to bloom, and will do so until frost.
A tall sunflower leans against the rose trellis, otherwise
recent winds would have toppled it.
Roses are surprisingly hardy at times. I have seen fresh blossoms encased in ice following an October ice storm. I am sure there is a poem in there somewhere.
With a little bit cooler weather the tomatoes and beans are starting to bloom and set again. I continue to harvest, but I no longer spend half my day canning and freezing produce.
The now dead oat cover crop on the garlic bed has been raked back and a generous layer of compost and horse manure has been laid on it. In October, about 3 1/2 pounds of garlic cloves (with any luck, a bit more with a contribution from my neighbor) will be planted there, each two inches deep and about 4-6 inches from each neighbor. Yet that might not be enough to keep us in garlic until the next crop is dug.

Garlic is one of my more important crops. We use a lot of it. Not only does it season most of the dishes that we cook, it also serves as an important medicinal.

When we feel that we are beginning to come down with something we cut a clove of garlic in two and pop it in our mouths, between cheek and gum.
Leave it there for 20 to 30 minutes (move it around, if kept in one spot too long, it will irritate the mucous lining of the mouth), spit it out (you can swallow it if your stomach can handle it) and repeat several times during the day. Do this for a day, or two, or three, until you are certain you are past danger. One day of this treatment is generally sufficient for us.
Couple with doses of echinacea tincture and an increase in fluid intake and you have a surefire method of preventing, or at least reducing the severity of general wintertime illness. Neither I nor my husband have suffered from a full-blown cold or flu in several years -- and he works in a medical clinic.

In my Aug. 23 post, I recounted my search for a long-keeping garlic variety. Hundreds of varieties exist, each with their own characteristics.

Soft neck garlic varieties tend to keep longer than hard neck varieties. Hard neck varieties send up a flower/seed stalk that leaves a hard central stalk -- the "hard neck." Soft neck varieties do not do this and are the best varieties for creating garlic "braids."

The flower buds, aka "scapes," should be cut off. If left to develop, bulb size is reduced. The scapes sometime curl quite decoratively and can be used in flower arrangements or the top 4-6 inches can be used to add garlic flavor to stir-fries or other dishes. No sense in wasting a perfectly good scape.

Garlic varieties vary in flavor and heat, time of maturity, hardiness, and clove size, as well as keeping quality. Some are bland, some are highly pungent. Some are best for cooking or roasting or using fresh.

The Music variety that I plant every year has just a few giant cloves per bulb. This means I need to peel just a few cloves for lots of garlic. An important characteristic. Have I mentioned that we use lots of garlic? It is nicely pungent hard neck garlic and grows well in our northeast Kansas climate.
The Silverwhite variety that I ordered for my "keeper" has more, smaller cloves per bulb and, according to the description a nice pungence. I ordered it from Keene Organics.

Catalog descriptions don't always give you information on keeping quality of garlic varieties. The Ashley Creek Farm Web site (click on "Products") has a nice chart with information on a number of garlic varieties that includes the types of culinary uses for which they are best suited (cooking, roasting or raw), heat level and estimated keeping quality.

My husband and I are not the only ones who love garlic. A friend of ours once (perhaps twice or several times) has said that his first step in using a recipe is to double the garlic. I would say that sometimes, more than doubling is required. Any recipe that calls for a single clove of garlic is way too timid, in my opinion. Many recipes are far too timid in their use of pretty much any seasoning, as far as I am concerned. I like to be generous.

Some people are fanatic about garlic. Some specialty restaurants serve such things as chocolate covered garlic and garlic ice cream. I love garlic, but I think that is going a bit too far.

Many garlic growing farms and communities for which garlic is a staple crop hold garlic festivals around harvest time. The most famous is the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California. Unfortunately, it is too late to attend this year's festival, held at the end of July, but you have plenty of time to make plans to attend next year's festival and its garlic cooking contests and other events. I am sure they must crown a garlic queen and/or king.

Suddenly, I've got a craving for some garlic-heavy multi-colored bean salad. Fortunately, a bowl of it is waiting in the fridge. Gotta go now.

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