Even though it seemed early, the lower stalks of my garlic were turning brown with the tips in full shrivel. I shouldn’t have been surprised as a few weeks ago had we started to cut garlic scapes that would be added to salads and stir-fry dishes. With a very delicate flavor and texture, their inclusion in our food signaled to us that the spring crop of bountiful greens would soon be bolting away and the summer harvest of peas, squash and tomatoes would begin. It was also the time when I needed to think about planting the fall and winter garden, which would sit where the garlic now rested.
I knew I may have over planted as my 8-by-3-foot plot was thick with the green and white garlic stalks letting few weeds in. I had purchased some garlic heads last fall but also received a wide variety of spare cloves left over from our fall planting at Green Chimneys. There was a little bit of Foxy, Russian, German extra hardy and others all mixed together that I dropped into the garden and then mulched with straw. They all popped up by November and then were buried under a thick blanket of snow until the following March.
Growing up, I was never exposed much to garlic as it was not one of the flavorings my mother used for cooking. Perhaps my first real exposure to it was via cheesy black and white vampire movies where the protagonist protected him or herself with a ring of garlic around their necks. As I grew up and got married my wife bought bags of garlic like my mother used to buy potatoes for inclusion in many foods. Stuffed inside a chicken, sautéed in a stir fry, chopped up in a red sauce for pasta. Its uses were endless.
But its favorite use—particularly for my daughters—were in the seemingly endless pots of black beans that would be devoured by my girls. For every pot, went a head of garlic along with scallions and salt to give it the same flavor her mother had created years ago back in Guatemala. After an initial helping, the beans would be crushed and evaporated leaving a delightful paste that would be fought for. To get the right flavor, garlic was key.
So now it was time to yank the garlic and replenish the supply. When you pull garlic you need to be careful in the same way as when you pull carrots. It is best to wiggle the stalk first so the soil is loosened and then pull hard. This often ensures that the bulb will emerge with a satisfying pop of soil rather than a disappointing tear from the stalk separating from the garlic head.
Examining the field of heads I was about to pull, I started to wonder how mad I must have been to plant so many. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to consume all this garlic. Perhaps gifts at Christmas would be wrapped with a bow of garlic. A Halloween garlic could be included in a goody bag for some unsuspecting child. Tiny garlics could be placed in a plastic Easter eggs and scattered among their chocolate counterparts. But as I started to pull head after head my worries were assuaged as some of the heads were very tiny. Some no larger than a large garlic tooth. I had little to fear in our ability to use my harvest over the course of a year.
Some cultivars were a great success. My elephant garlic (really a leek) lived up to its name by producing massive heads for me. But the rest was a mixed bag. That was OK as I pulled over 120 heads from the ground and placed them in my greenhouse to dry out before I would braid or tie them together to dry.
Picking up one of the heads, I placed it near my nose and took a deep breath. It was the same smell that the Egyptians, Greens and Romans had experienced thousands of years ago as they used garlic for everything from an offering to the gods to miracle medical cures. It got me thinking. Perhaps my wife will make another pot of frijoles negros for my daughter Sarah and me if I bring in a few heads. You can never have enough.