Garlic Time Again

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It’s fall again and we’re planting garlic again. Work like a metronome ticks out my life. Repetitive tasks set the rhythm and mark the time, blurring everything in between. We’re closing the poultry coop at night – that means another day is over. I’m loading the trailer for market- it must be Saturday, a week has passed. Gheda’s paying our taxes – a fiscal quarter is done, three more months down. And now, Adam is planting garlic. We’re planting garlic yet again – this time a whole year’s gone by.  We’re right back where we started. Are we any smarter? Any wiser? I’d like to think so. But who can tell?

It was Autumn a year ago, during garlic planting, that we decided to make a go of the farm. That’s when we decided to take it from a hobby garden to a business. The intervening year has been productive; we incorporated a business, got insurance, grew a lot of food, sold a lot of food, made a busload of new friends, earned some money, paid some bills, preached the good news of local, sustainable agriculture and went more or less sleep deprived for months. I hesitate to draw any conclusions about the year. Did we do any good? Did we waste a lot of time and energy? I avoid questions like that. All I know is that we’re setting up for another year, wholeheartedly believing we can do better than we’ve done up to now. There’s redemption to be found in looking forward.

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Pickled Garlic Scapes

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Scapes are the flowering stems that grow from hardneck garlic. Around here, fall planted garlic usually emerges in mid-April.  By early June it’s growing great and as the days get warmer the hardnecks bolt, sending up tender, delicious scapes. The scapes bend and curl as they grow, wrapping around and through each other like frisky boa-constrictors playing Twister. Unfortunately, as they curl, they become much less tender, replacing what was once a fantastically satisfying crunch with a woody chewiness. So it’s important to harvest scapes early, 180-degrees of curl is a good rule. (The scapes in these pictures are a bit too curly and thus too woody. But I suppose tender treats are the price one must pay waiting to make a picture.) It’s this need to harvest, to beat the woodiness,  that makes scapes such a fleeting, garden treasure. They arrive from nowhere. One day there are none and almost literally the next day the whole garlic bed is in scapes. From there, it’s two weeks, maybe even 10 days, maybe even less before they’re past their prime. Asparagus is known as the archetypal fleeting vegetable and it’s season is four or five times longer than garlic scapes’. Even fennel pollen, my absolute favorite garden delight, lasts longer than scapes. Garlic scapes are momentary. Pay too much mind to the rhubarb and you may well miss them.

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Fall Planting Comes Good and The Last Soup Post for a While

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We planted most of our garlic, onions and leeks way back in October (last year), just a few weeks before the first hard frost. Now, after a long winter of waiting, the fall planting is finally coming good. The garlic and onions are thriving and last week we transplanted leeks that we’d originally put out over six months ago.

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Baba Ganoush and the Big Bowl of Garlic

Smoked-Eggplant

Several weeks ago, after planting our fall garlic beds, I ended up with a big bowl of leftover cloves on my kitchen counter. It hasn’t moved much since. We shuffle it around and I’ve whittled it down a bit but it’s still there; big, garlicky and always in the way. Not that it’s a huge problem. The garlic will last a year and sooner or latter I’ll muster the energy to walk it down to the root cellar. But until then, they’ll live on the counter. And while it’s occasionally irritating, having a big bowl of garlic underfoot, it’s also kind of nice. It gives me an excuse to use garlic in every dish. We’ve made garlic soup with poached eggs. We’ve done 40-clove chicken. We’ve roasted it. We’ve toasted it. We even whipped up a batch of garlic-scented gougeres. But recently my favorite garlic dishes have all been dips, spreads and purees.

Which brings us to baba ghanoush. Baba ghanoush is a great outlet for garlic. It’s strong, smokey, creamy and lucious; pure comfort food for more than a few people on this planet. It’s super easy to make, lasts for days and can be eaten with almost anything. In America we usually serve it as a appetizer dip with either pita triangles of raw, cut vegetables. In the Middle East it’s more often served as a side dish or as a salad. The best part about baba ghanoush is that it’s supposed to taste garlicky, Make that real, real garlicky. So I’m never shy. I push the garlic much farther than I do with other dishes. Baba is my number one answer to the big bowl on my counter.

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Fall Garlic

Standing-garlic

It’s a tired old garden saw but it’s true: big garlic cloves grow big garlic bulbs. And, at least where garlic is concerned, bigger is definitely better. In the kitchen small bulbs are a pain. They take longer to peel. They’re hard to handle. They slow you down. And they often taste “hotter” than bigger bulbs of the same variety. At the market, it’s almost  impossible to sell small bulbs. People are used to seeing garlic of a certain size and while they gobble up anything larger, they flat refuse to go small. In the field all the growers I know try to manage bulb size by only planting the largest cloves. That’s certainly what we do. The problem is that seed garlic comes as whole bulbs. And many bulbs, especially the softneck varieties (like the Silverskin sold in grocery stores), are a melange of different sized cloves. There are little ones and there are big ones.  There are runts and there are giants. Plant a runt, get a runt. Plant a giant, get a decent size bulb.

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