Saturday, June 25, 2011

Six Interesting Things About Garlic

I spent the better part of a day harvesting garlic yesterday.  It is a pleasing job made even better by the garlic aroma that ebbs and flows around your head while you work.  At one point, the farm owner was harvesting basil upwind, and I had a wonderful aromatic pesto experience.  I have always wanted to grow garlic in my home garden, and I learned enough yesterday to try it this year.

To grow garlic, you plant a clove in the late summer and let it grow.  It grows a stalk with leaves above ground and begins to build a large bulb underground.  When the above-ground leaves start to die off, you know the bulb is ready to be harvested.  To harvest, stick a pitchfork into the ground a few inches away from the bulb and pull up the bulb and soil.  Gently brush off much of the soil and pull a leaf or two off if they are mushy and dead.  The fresh garlic is fabulous - mild and slightly green tasting, but you can cure it and keep it to use throughout the year.  To cure the garlic, let the whole stalk and bulb dry outdoors for two weeks or so.  Then you can cut off the top of the stalk and roots and store the whole thing in a cool, dry location.

Here is a row of garlic and one fifth of my garlic harvest ready to go to the drying racks:

Garlic is an amazing and powerful plant.  In no particular order, here are some interesting things about garlic:

1. Eating two cloves of garlic a day reduces your risk of cancer.  (reference)  If you crush the cloves, let them sit for 15 minutes, then cook with them, they will cause your body to produce more of its own antioxidant, hydrogen sulfide.  Antioxidants reduce the risk of cancer. 

2. Garlic also helps maintain elasticity of the blood vessels, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.  It also has many other health benefits that are less rigorously demonstrated.  Garlic is anti-viral, anti-parasitic, antibacterial and anti-fungal. 

3. Garlic makes any savory dish taste better.  It helps bring out the other flavors in food even as it adds its own richness.  It is good lightly sauteed (don't burn it), roasted whole, cooked in broth, or even crushed raw into hummus or pesto or salad dressing.  To avoid burning garlic when sauteeing, add it as you finish sauteeing the onions and 1-2 minutes before you add the major ingredients to the pan.

4. Garlic scapes are delicious and only available for a flash in the spring.  Garlic scapes are the flower stalks of the garlic plant.  They have a gentle garlic flavor.  They can be stir-fried or sauteed.  Another farm worker brought in pesto made from only garlic scapes, olive oil and pine nuts, and it was fantastic.

5. Garlic is in the onion family, which includes all types of onions, chives, leeks, ramps and shallots.  These plants grow all over the world and are used in almost all cultures' cuisines and medicines.

6. Garlic plants are mostly all clones of each other.  Garlic seeds are not usually planted, and seeds would be the offspring of two garlic plants.  Cloves are parts of one plant, so when they are separated off and planted, they are genetically identical to the plant they came from - clones.  Garlic is very easy to grow from cloves, and the results are predictable.  Seeds take much longer to grow, and each seed results in a plant that may be bigger, smaller, less pungent or otherwise different than the parent plants. 

I'll leave you with my foot - toes looking fabulous from a recent trip to New York and lots of mud from harvesting after a good rain.

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