A Thousand Mothers Set into the Earth: It’s Garlic Planting Season…

October 17th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

‘German Red ‘ garlic bulb from Wild Shepherd Farm, Athens, Vermont

The ancient Greeks and Romans often called garlic the ‘stinking rose’, and in eastern Europe it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Russian penicillin’. Allium sativium has been praised for it’s worth by many as ‘better than a thousand mothers‘; blamed for bad breath, gas and indigestion, and hailed as a cure for a wide variety of ailments from warts and blood clots to bacterial infections and even cancer. Steeped dramatic folklore, garlic frequently makes an appearance in campy old vampire films as repellent for various creatures of the night, including Count Dracula himself. I sort of like that bit – maybe I will hang a braid on my door for Halloween. But beyond its fantastic ability to ward off the un-dead, for most of us, garlic is simply a delicious culinary staple we can not do without…

Music garlic in bin at festivalAllium sativum, ‘Music’ spills from a harvest basket in Simple Gifts Farm booth        The North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival

Two weeks ago I drove to western Massachusetts and spent Sunday, October 4th tasting and buying garlic, talking with local farmers, and rubbing elbows with the talented artisans at The North Quabbin Garlic & Arts Festival – or as the locals prefer to call it, ‘The festival that stinks’. The Garlic and Arts festival began in 1999 at the Seeds of Solidarity Farm, and is now an annual event held at Forsters Farm field every October in Orange, Massachusetts. This entertaining agricultural, food and craft fair has grown in size and scope over the past decade to become one of the most popular harvest festivals in western New England. Although I originally planned to spend both Saturday and Sunday at the event, October 3rd was something of a wash-out, so my time was somewhat limited. Next year I hope to spend two full days at the festival in order to enjoy it more fully. This year I focused mainly on the agricultural booths selling gourmet garlic, but I did connect with several New England artisans I plan to feature here in the coming months.

Autumn is garlic planting season, and I decided to plant some gourmet cultivars in my potager this fall. While at the North Quabbin festival, I spoke with two garlic growers and sampled the tasty cloves offered to visitors in their stands. My first stop was the, (North Amherst, Massachusetts based), Simple Gifts Farm booth, where the garlic was displayed in overflowing harvest baskets alongside beautiful, organically grown produce. I sidled up to the ‘Music’ garlic plate and read the informational tag:  “Music – Strong producer. Robust, minty flavor”. Mmmmm. The fragrance was pungent and indeed, the taste was slightly minty as I let the clove linger on my palate. This was described as a hardy, soft-neck garlic, (the hardneck varieties have stiff, prominent stems). I put a few bulbs in a bag and moved around the stand looking for the farmer. When I spotted him, he was busy with another customer, so I continued to sample. A jolly, conversational fellow asked if I had seen any ‘German Red’, “It’s the best” he said, “but I don’t see it here“. When the curious shopper noticed my notes, I explained my mission and he suggested I try the ‘Doc’s German’. What a find! The taste of this stiff-neck cultivar is delightfully mild and nutty, and the cloves displayed were large and golden colored. Into the bag with that tasty variety! My final purchase at the stand was recommended by the farmer, Jeremy. I asked if he had a smoky flavored garlic he could suggest for cooking. The variety I sampled, ‘Continental’, is known for retaining its true flavor in high heat. Indeed, the flavor was subtly smoky with a nice sharp finish. He did not have ‘German Red’, but suggested I check at the booth next door.

As it turned out, the next stand was occupied by Wild Shepherd Farm, based in my home state of Vermont. Athens, VT farmers Emily Amanna and David Hassan grow many gourmet varieties of garlic, but specialize in the hardy stiff-neck cultivars which they grow in their sustainable fields. I tasted many of the samples on display in their booth, including the delicious, elusive ‘German Red’ and the hardy ‘Spanish Roja’ varieties I chose to take home to my garden. ‘Spanish Roja’ is an excellent roasting garlic. Raw, the flavor is quite sharp and spicy, but once subjected to heat it mellows and deepens. I am looking forward to experimenting with it in my kitchen. ‘Spanish Roja’ also has a reputation for hardiness and good production – qualities I seek out in this cold climate and short growing season. The wildly popular, and elusive ‘German Red’ cultivar develops a rich, warm flavor when sauteed in olive oil or butter. Raw, the taste is spicy, almost on fire with classic garlic flavor. This variety has become very hard to find, and was sold out in most booths at the festival…

'Spanish Roja' Garlic‘Spanish Roja’ garlic bulb from Wild Shepherd Farm, Athens, Vermont

Continental Garlic‘Continental’ garlic bulb from Simple Gifts Farm, North Amherst, Massachusetts

German Red Garlic‘German Red’ garlic bulb from Wild Shepherd Farm, Athens, Vermont

Doc's German Garlic‘Doc’s German’ garlic bulb from Simple Gifts Farm, North Amherst, Massachusetts

Music Garlic‘Music’ garlic bulb from Simple Gifts Farm, North Amherst Massachusetts

Mid autumn is the best time to plant garlic in New England. I planted my bulbs this weekend. In warmer North American regions, garlic may be planted through early winter. Wherever you garden, it is essential to give garlic bulbs a month or two to establish before the ground freezes. Plant garlic in deep, well-drained, fertile soil, rich in organic material. Garlic produces best in full sun but many varieties will tolerate light shade. If you live in a very cold climate, ask a local grower which varieties are performing best in your region. For this reason, I believe it is wise to purchase your garlic bulbs locally whenever possible. Supporting local farmers not only feels good, it supports your overall community and makes sense for you as a gardener. Produce grown locally has been tested by your neighbors and proven successful, so it’s a good investment.

Each Year, I Reserve Some Garlic Bulbs from the Harvest to Replant in Autumn. I Also Add New, Tasty Varieties Found at the Garlic Festival.

Garlic bulbs should be  gently separated into cloves and planted approximately 2″ deep (that is, pointy end up, for you beginners), 6″ or so apart, and watered thoroughly. Good garlic growing companions include lettuce, herbs and beets. When planning your potager, if you practice companion planting methods, it is best to avoid positioning garlic near beans or peas. Crop rotation is always good agricultural practice, so avoid following onion crops with garlic in your vegetable plots.

Break Firm, Good Sized Garlic Bulbs into Cloves and Plant As Described Above with Pointy End Up!

Once planted, if you live in a climate with cold winters, it is very important to mulch your garlic bulbs with straw or ground leaves to protect them from cold. This mulch will be pulled back in early spring, (usually mid-April here), and replaced with a generous layer of compost. Garlic should not be over-watered, and weeding by hand is necessary to avoid damaging the shallow bulbs. Garlic scapes (the curly tips) are traditionally removed in summer to direct energy toward bulb production. Garlic scapes are a gourmet’s delight (read more about using scapes here). Garlic Harvest tends to coincide with the maturity of onion crops here, but in case there is any doubt, look for falling tops and yellowing of the lower leaves. Pull garlic bulbs up with a garden fork and cure them for about two weeks in the sun, (or in a dry protected space like a covered porch). The method is very similar to curing onions, (see my recent post on onions here). Once dry-cured, garlic will store very well in a cool, dark, dry place for up to six months, (depending upon the variety, hard-neck garlic tends to store better than soft-neck varieties).

Wild Shepherd Farmstand at the Garlic FestivalWild Shepherd Farm tasting booth at the Garlic and Arts Festival

Wild Shepherd Farm CardSupport your community farmers – Buy your garlic locally when possible !

Has all of this talk about garlic left you craving the rich, nutty flavor of this delicious herb? Well then, check out this fantastic recipe for Richard Olney’s Garlic Soup, originally from The French Menu Cookbook. I just recently found it on one of my favorite food-blogs, 101 Cookbooks, and it is delicious. What perfect timing! Many thanks to the talented Heidi Swanson for her fantastic food blog and her always perfect, vegetarian recipes.

Here’s to The Thousand Mothers ! Happy planting…

Article and photographs ⓒ 2009 Michaela at TGE

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Stop! Put Down That Hoe, and Let’s Eat! Great Food Blogs to Stir Your Imagination and Wet Your Appetite…

July 1st, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

11June harvest: red chard, arugula, oak leaf and red rumple lettuce..

As I walked back from my kitchen garden on this wet afternoon, colanders and baskets filled to the rim with chard for rissoto and mixed greens for salad, I felt a deep gratitude for all that I have in this life. I can not pretend that this focused awareness is with me all of the time, and I will not paint you some rosy picture of perfection. Still, on this day, after reading news of more uprooted families and lost homes, I am keenly aware of my good fortune in the midst of tough times all around.

It is no secret that with the arrival of this economic recession, vegetable gardening has seen a remarkable surge in popularity. People everywhere are looking to save money, simplify and learn new skills. Growing a few basic crops, perhaps some tomatoes and lettuce in raised beds, has become a popular place to start. From the neighbors down the street to First Lady Michelle Obama, it seems that just about everyone has planted a backyard potager this year. And now that June has arrived, hopefully all of that hard work, planting, weeding, and battle with mother-nature, has produced something edible in those little vegetable plots. It comes as no surprise to most green-thumbs that with this fresh, new crop of gardeners comes a renewed interest in home cooking. The direct link from hand to mouth is a natural one for gardeners, and for many of us, consuming organic produce can be as simple as washing and tossing a salad of new greens or steaming a bowl of broccoli on the stove. Somehow though, I have a hunch that all the bright colors, fresh fragrances and delightful tastes in the garden are stirring more creative culinary urges.

Like most vegetable gardeners, I am interested in learning the secrets of kitchen-alchemy that will turn my organic produce into gourmet gold. But in all honesty, Giada De Laurentiis I am not. With a busy schedule and competing demands of work, home and garden, lately I find myself searching the internet for simple summer recipes and inspiration.

Food sites have become incredibly popular on the web; so much so in fact, that New York Times writer Mark Bittman recently ran a post in his column, Bitten, requesting recommendations from readers on favorite culinary blogs. In my own experience, late night web-log-surfing has resulted in some delicious discoveries for both mind and palate. My new-found love affair with food blogs began with the Edible Boston website and Facebook page. It was there that I discovered a link to one of my favorite new food blogs, Poor Girl Gourmet. Poor Girl Gourmet is written by Amy McCoy, a talented photographer, culinary-whiz and soon-to-be-published author of a new cookbook from Andrews McMeel. The recipes on Poor Girl Gourmet are imaginative, but easy to follow. And best of all, in these challenging economic times, Amy McCoy is indeed frugal-minded. Yet for me, there is more. Beyond the great recipes, what truly separates Amy’s blog from the virtual sea of online cooking journals is quite simply her engaging, entertaining style of writing. Poor Girl Gourmet is witty, conversational and fun. As a gardener, I caught myself laughing-out-loud while reading methods of squash-bug control in her recent post “Memories of Zucchini Blossoms Past“. Recipes on the site are always served up with a perfect side dish of short stories and personal anecdotes. From the beginning, the combination was enough to stir my appetite and imagination, and to keep me coming back for more. I am eager to try all of the new recipes on Poor Girl Gourmet as the gardening season marches on. In meantime, I can now personally recommend her delicious French Breakfast Radish Bruschetta, and also the delightful Toast with Sour Cream and Jam, (with fresh thyme from your garden, of course).

While visiting Poor Girl Gourmet, I happily discovered some other internet gems; among them, the incomparable Orangette.  Although the author, Molly Wizenberg, is currently taking a break from her blog-writing, the site and accompanying archive are worth visiting for the evocative photography and addictive journal entries alone. The posts on Orangette are exquisitely written; as poetically rendered as any novel I have ever read. But there is so much more to this gorgeous blog, and I haven’t even touched on the recipes yet ! For a quick look at what Orangette has to offer, click on over to her recipe index. Vegetable gardeners, (like most of you, dear readers), will love the quality, variety and ease of the author’s selected recipes. Her site will help you make use of your tender greens, sun ripened tomatoes and just about anything else you harvest from your potager. Molly has also published a book, “A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table“, and you can bet it is already on my wish-list. Equally compelling, the writing style of Tea and Cookies is at once mysterious and personal. With a cup of Earl Grey and a warm blanket, cozying up with Tea’s journal feels like an intimate tete-a-tete. I can imagine sharing evening hours in my garden room with the author, swapping stories and homemade delicacies. This blog is simply delicious.

There are so many new sites I have yet to explore on rainy weekend afternoons. But another spot I must mention here, Sassy Radish, is also becoming a personal favorite. This snappy web log is written by the lovely and talented Olga Massov, a Russian immigrant with a flair for “all things pickled, herring, pelmeni, cabbage and sour cream”. Like the other blogs recommended here, what makes this one a stand-out is the combination of great, easy-to-follow recipes and distinct, personal style. Olga’s entries are charmingly conversational. Within a few posts I felt like a new friend; a virtual guest in her tiny on-line kitchen, listening to her sweet stories while watching her prepare exotic, European-inspired dishes. The memory of her latest post,”Pasta with Stinging Nettles and Ramps Pesto”, stopped me in my tracks yesterday afternoon as I was about to string trim a weedy patch at the edge of my meadow. “Why waste those nettles”, I thought, newly educated, “when they can clearly become a great meal”?

On each of the sites mentioned above, (as well as on the fabulous 101 Cookbooks, and Cheap, Healthy, Good, or the myriad others popping up on my blogroll under the cooking section), you will find lists of more like- minded cooking blogs. Search these fantastic sites for ways to creatively use the fruits of your kitchen-garden labor. Along the way you may encounter the names of a few new vegetables, herbs or fruits you might like to try-out in next year’s potager.

For now, I will leave you with an early summer favorite from my own recipe box. Although it will take a bit more sun, (please!), before I can harvest my beloved sungold cherry tomatoes and basil from the garden, I certainly have a bumper crop of arugula on hand!  Hopefully the weather here in the Northeast will improve, as I am eager to taste the sweet and spicy flavors in this quick no-cook recipe I copied with minor adaptations from Martha Rose Shulman‘s original on the New York Times website last year. Bon Appetite !

arugula-and-sungold-cherry-tomato-pasta

dinner from the vegetable garden…

***

Pasta With Sungold Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Arugula


1 pint sungold cherry tomatoes, (halved, or if larger, quartered)

1 plump garlic clove, minced (more to taste)

Salt to taste (try coarse sea salt or fleur de sel)

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 cup arugula leaves, chopped coarsely

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3/4 pound fusille or farfalle pasta

1/4 cup freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese, (more to taste)


Combine the cherry tomatoes, garlic, salt, balsamic vinegar, arugula, basil, and olive oil in a large bowl. Set aside at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings accordingly.

While the mixture rests and flavors blend, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a salt and cook the pasta al dente, (still firm to the bite). Drain the pasta, and toss with the tomatoes. While the pasta is still hot, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and serve.


Serves 4 as a light dinner or first course.


*** Article and Photographs copyright  2009  Michaela H.  ***

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