Garlic is a food, a spice, and also a medicine. The health benefits of garlic are many, including warding against colds and keeping away vampires, if that is something you are worried about. It will also scare off those who want to be close to you, so make sure both eat garlic if there’s going to be any hanky panky! We grow two different types of garlic at the farm – hardneck, which has large, easy-to-peel cloves and often a purplish tinge to the skin, and softneck, which has smaller cloves but keeps all winter (You can tell the difference by feeling the stem in the middle: If it is hard like a stick = hardneck, and vice versa). Both are strong tasting like locally grown garlic should be! It’s got such a high oil content that it will leave your hands and knife and cutting board sticky.
Very early in the season you can eat the entire plant, but once it starts to mature the stem will become hard in the middle. You can still use it all– think lemongrass, chop chunks of stem to add to soups (remove before serving) or stocks (stalk stock, haha, I’m so punny!), or any other slow cooking (in the slow cooker, with a roast, etc). Bear in mind that green garlic is milder and sweeter than the storage garlic– the oil is what makes it strong and the oil content is still developing in this crop.
In North America we eat garlic as a flavouring, so we tend to like it stronger, especially in Manitoba Ukrainian country! In China, where much of the world’s supply of garlic comes from, they eat it more as a vegetable (mashed up), so it has a lower oil content and therefore less bite– the lower oil content makes it keep longer as well, better for shipping (so, there’s no need for those blatantly racist comments about Chinese garlic “sucking”. It doesn’t suck, it’s just grown for a different purpose, and if you don’t like it, buy ours!). The other major world garlic growing region is California, that garlic is also lacking the sharpness that local garlic has, and much of it goes to processing (like those jars of minced or chopped garlic, or peeled garlic, etc). I’m sure if you went to a farmer’s market in California or China you would find all sorts of different varieties of garlic with varying flavour– but, just like you won’t find Brown Sugar Produce’s garlic in China, all the best of a country tends to stay put. The farms that are big enough to export don’t focus on things like flavour. And so, North American demand drives us to do ridiculous things like ship garlic all over the world when it grows perfectly well here at home. End rant!
Season: We start the garlic harvest with scapes, which are from the hardneck garlic and are usually ready in early July or even late June. Following that within a week or two we have fresh garlic available, which is very juicy and needs to be kept in the fridge as it hasn’t cured or formed cloves yet. By August the garlic is partially cured already, and later in the fall it is completely cured. The hardneck garlic will keep until Christmas, and the softneck garlic will keep all winter!
Storage Tips: Store fresh garlic in the fridge, OR if it is mature enough (has formed cloves but not the papery skin) you can hang it in a warm, dry, well-ventilated, shaded place and cure it yourself.
Don’t store cured garlic in the fridge, especially in the fall! The coldness of the fridge tells the garlic “Time to grow some roots for winter” and it will sprout very quickly. The green sprout won’t hurt you one bit, but real food aficionados will tell you it is bitter and should be removed before adding it into your cooking (I don’t bother). Garlic likes to be at room temperature in a dark, dry place. A ceramic garlic keeper is a good investment and will keep it very well. If you don’t have one, a dish inside the cupboard will do just fine.
Preparation Tips: Our garlic is very strong! We grow a variety with a high oil content, and so it is potent. One clove in a batch of salad dressing will leave your mouth tingling! My favourite garlic trick? Mince roughly & quickly as fine as you can. Leave it on the cutting board and sprinkle with salt. Use your knife blade on it’s side to squash it, back and forth, and the salt will act as sandpaper and make the garlic turn into a sticky paste, ready for addition to salad dressings, garlic butter, or pasta sauce.
Another tip to prep ahead and make it easy to use: Peel garlic cloves and puree in a food processor (or dice finely) and mix with olive oil. Store in the fridge for months, but beware – it can be easy to over-garlic when it’s this easy to use, especially if you’re not the one who did all the hard work getting it ready.
You can also roast garlic to mellow the flavour and bring out the sweetness. Cut off the very top of the head and wrap in foil with a little olive oil, roast in the oven on low heat for up to an hour or until soft. You can then squeeze the roasted garlic from the papery skin and store in the fridge for up to a week (or longer if you add more olive oil).
If you are very interested in garlic, we recommend the book “Growing Great Garlic” by Ron L. Engeland.