Growing up in an Italian household, garlic was a given – an important staple used in just about everything. My bedroom was next to the kitchen, and my father rarely closed my door before cooking, so I pretty much smelled like I had just arrived from Gilroy. While other girls wore Jean Nate or Babe, my signature scent was The Stinking Rose. (Hmmm. Maybe Dad did that on purpose to repel the boys?)
I grew up and explored other cuisines and was pleasantly surprised to see that garlic is an integral part of many cuisines on every continent! Can you imagine Mexican food without garlic? Vietnamese? Chinese? Spanish? French? Middle Eastern? Cuban? It is universal!
My husband has a colleague with a deep interest in garlic. Not only is she a brilliant atmospheric physicist, but she really knows her garlic, growing many different types which she shares with friends. She hosts garlic parties where guests eat six-eight different types of garlic, both raw and roasted, and then write their impressions which are compiled and compared with other descriptions from other parties. We munch on slivers of pear or apple between garlic samples to cleanse our palates, and then feast on a lovely vegetarian meal.
Through her, we met a farmer who cultivated close to 80 different types of garlic on her small, organic farm along the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico. A disastrous bosque fire roared through her neighborhood a few years ago, taking her house, shed, and equipment – effectively wiping her out. Her garlic had been harvested and was stored in the back of her pickup truck, which a neighbor rescued before the flames engulfed her farm. She viewed this as an opportunity to explore different paths in her life and is letting the land rejuvenate while she decides where to go next. Meanwhile, my husband’s colleague bought most of the garlic, cataloged it, and passed it out to the rest of us. What a great way to keep the lines going!
My goodie bag included hard and soft-neck varietals from all over the world. And what great names: Kyshluk, Turkish Red, Siberian, Beekeepers Sicilian, Inchellium Red, Siberian, Mt. St. Helens and Corsican Red. They varied in size from that of a marble to a baseball with the colors ranging from snow white to variegated red. Beautiful!
I relayed this story to my son’s, wife’s grandfather – a dear man with a big heart and a beautiful farm in central Oklahoma. He smiled, nodded, and said, “Wait here.” A few moments later, he handed me a bag with large, white heads of garlic. These bulbs were the direct descendants of the stock brought to America by his ancestors from Germany in the 19th Century! They had been cultivated for many generations and now headed to New Mexico to be integrated into the garden of the newest members of his family.
Garlic is completely transformed after roasting in an oven for a spell. It becomes soft and spreadable – like butter. My husband’s colleague gave us a hand-crafted, ceramic, garlic roaster made just for this purpose. Even if you do not have a garlic roaster, you can easily roast a couple of bulbs in a muffin tin. Cut the top off of a full bulb to expose the cloves. Drizzle with a good olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Roast in a 400 oven for 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of the head. Keep checking because it can burn quickly! The garlic will be warm and soft. You’ll be able to spread it on a nice slice of bread and your house will smell amazing! Oh, and you’ll keep the vampires (or boys) at bay for at least a day or two!