A GARLIC PRIMER
GROW YOUR OWN GARLIC
This small bulb has been used throughout history for medicinal use as well as consumption dating back as far as early Egyptian civilizations, and though its Syrian cousins have stolen the limelight, garlic is still a particularly powerful crop in Egypt. Tracing written connections through the Indus River Valley civilizations of modern Pakistan and India to a new home in China where it was praised as an aphrodisiac with life-lengthening qualities. Then to Portugal, France, and Spain where the crop once snubbed by ancient upper echelons became the ingredient a la mode for flavoring bland dishes, it then crossed the Atlantic to be a part of The New World.
What was once criticized as too volatile a food for consumption because of its alleged stimulant properties, the small bulbs have helped many races and generations ward of vampires, smallpox, and heart disease alike. Though the culinary use hasn't always invaded every cultures dinner plates, it has been used in a widespread fashion for medicinal purposes. Today, garlic is still a food recommended to patients with high risk associations for certain types of cancer for its richness in antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic vitamins in its raw form, and is also a great supplement for people suffering from heart disease and hypertension.
Garlic by classification is an allium, meaning it belongs to a family of flowering onion and leek plants. Though the history of garlic's medicinal us is long, following America's founding pilgrims back to their homelands, the use of garlic as a fairly mainstream ingredient in American food is relatively new. Spreading from traditionally ethnic neighborhoods like Brooklyn, New York, garlic found its way into American food most prevalently during early 1940s in an organic and slow osmosis. Today Americans alone consume around 250 million pounds of garlic annually.
This spring, we encourage our readers to become a part of this historically and nutritiously rich herb and plant garlic of their own. If you can't plant it yourself, check in your local farmer's market for fresh, dried garlic for use in your own recipes. With colder weather lingering on, who doesn't want to curl up to a warm bowl of homemade minestrone and garlic bread?
HEATH'S GARLIC PLANTING TIPS
1) Plant garlic near the end of winter, after the fear of the ground freezing has ended. Garlic cloves will grow and lie dormant during the remainder of winter and mature in time for harvest in late summer.
2) When planting, wait until just before planting to break apart bulbs. Cloves should cleanly remove from the basal plate. Plant very small cloves in a small group, but large bulbs singly.
3) It's common practice to stop watering garlic plants upwards of three weeks before harvesting.
4) To test the maturity of bulbs, scrape away the dirt from a few bulbs. Mature bulbs have cloves which can be felt through the skin.
5) Garlic's flavor can be changed by overexposure to the sun after harvest, a process a lot like sunburn. It's best to store harvested baskets of garlic in a garden shed or barn.
6) The top of garlic bulbs is called the scape. It has a lighter garlic flavor than cloves and can be prepared in sautéed dishes when chopped like green onion or served whole like asparagus.