My kitchen without garlic is an empty, soulless place.
History is absolutely on my side with this perspective. Garlic has been worshipped throughout the course of humankind.
“Other foods may have fans; garlic has lovers”
Garlic, an Edible Biography
The pungent bulb has been a guardian of Belizean taxi drivers, a lucky charm of soldiers and a protector against evil spirits. It’s warded off bloodsucking vampires and defended Swedish cows against trolls. King Henry IV of France was even baptised with it.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, held garlic’s healing properties in high esteem and ever since it’s been touted as a cure for almost everything since (sometimes merited).
However, despite all of the healing claims of garlic, my affection for it will always be about food. Anything else is just a bonus.
Life before the allotment was still one of passion for food and garlic an important part of life in the kitchen. The difference between then and now is that I used to walk into the supermarket, pick up a pack of garlic bulbs and carry on without another thought.
As with so many of the crops on our plots, there’s an incredible variety of garlic available offering an assortment of size, shape, colour and most importantly, flavour.
The supermarkets deny us the experience as they rarely stock more than one type.
Exploring farmers markets is one way to open your eyes to a new world of garlic. However, if you grow your own then this incredible new world can be as close as your very own back garden or allotment. Better still – it’s super easy too.
With all this choice to feed your garlic fetish. What you gonna do?
Garlic can be divided into two types: Hardnecks and Softnecks.
Hardnecks are more winter-hardy than softneck varieties and great for growing in northern climates. However, the key benefit of growing hardneck varieties is for the immense flavour. If you really love your garlic, then Hardnecks are incredible eaten raw. Especially in Salsa.
Growing Hardnecks provide an extra bonus – They develop a stiff flower stalk known as a scape and it should be removed to ensure the bulb develops to its maximum size. It is edible though, so don’t waste it. They are delicious chopped up into a salad or sauteed in butter.
The Softneck’s are milder in flavour and store well. I’m often still using my homegrown soft necks as I plant out the new season crop. Softneck is typically the type of garlic found in supermarkets – but with so many available, growing them is so much better
This year I’m growing Early Purple Wight.
Elephant Garlic is a fantastic crop for the kitchen. The hulking great bulbs are not true garlic and are more closely related to leeks. They have a mild flavour and the best (and in my view, only) way to use them is to roast them whole and serve the soft pulp with strong cheese and good bread.
I always plant garlic in the middle of October. It throws up green shoots before Christmas and its hardy enough to sit comfortably through the winter months. Planting at this time provides a long period of cold temperatures – which it wants, and an even longer growing season to develop its plump, juicy cloves. When I’ve planted in the spring, it’s never turned out as well.
Popping the cloves into the ground is also one of the rare opportunities at this time of year to get the fingers in the soil and plant something that is just bursting to get going.
Any favourite garlic varieties? Let me know in the comments below.
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