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Garlic Love

3 Jul

Every week I go to the grocery store and absentmindedly pick up four or five bulbs of garlic.  I look briefly for achromatic ones that are free from mold, and plunk them into my basket.  I bring them home, cook them up, then return the following week to absentmindedly pick up some more.

But this morning, I decided to pay attention to garlic. After all, it is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world, first used by the ancient Egyptians more than 5,000 years ago.

It is said that the Pharoahs fed garlic to their slaves to give them the supernatural strength that building pyramids required, that early Greek military leaders fed garlic to their troops before battle to give them courage, and that Greek travelers placed garlic at crossroads to appease the goddess Hecate and cause evil spirits to lose their way.   And of course, we all know how garlic has been used to repel Transylvanian vampires.

For vampire-repelling garlic mints, visit Bloom's Candy and Soda Pop Shop (candycarrollton.com)!

For vampire-repelling garlic mints, visit Bloom’s Candy and Soda Pop Shop (candycarrollton.com)!

But it wasn’t just vampires and evil spirits that abhorred garlic.  The 17th-century English declared it unfit for ladies because of its pungent odor, and 19th-century American reformers made its eradication an important tactic in their battle to uplift the immigrant masses and assimilate them into society.  Not until well into the 20th century did Americans begin to enjoy, without guilt or social embarrassment, this humble and powerful bulb.

Yet despite its long and prominent history, garlic today has become mundane.  It no longer seems to arouse passion in vampires, goddesses or social reformers.  Which is why, I guess, I never gave it much notice.  And that is a shame.  Because this morning I discovered that garlic CAN still ignite passion, especially among the small but increasing number of garlic enthusiasts growing hundreds of varieties in our country and throughout the world – “hot” varieties like Killarney Red or Spanish Rioja, “medium” ones like Persian Star or Nootka Rose, “mild” ones like Polish White or Siberia.

From Karen & Mike's web site, wegrowgarlic.com

From Karen & Mike’s web site, wegrowgarlic.com

Even in my own little neck of the woods, I can buy a thrilling assortment of organic garlic produced by Wisconsonites Mike and Karen, who began growing garlic as a hobby on their small farm north of Madison 12 years ago; or from Cathy and Greg who grow garlic on their family Copper Kettle Farm in Colgate; or from Dave-the-garlic-man-Peterson who taps maple sugar and grows garlic, among other things, at his organic Maplewood Gardens in Elderon; or from any of one of the 101 garlic producers listed on the Savor Wisconsin web site.

So I’ve decided that this week instead of going mindlessly to my local grocery store and plunking one of two standard, long-shelf-life varieties absentmindedly into my basket, I’m going to go on a local garlic tour – and I’m going to pay very close attention as I fill my basket with variety after variety of this surprisingly still humble, powerful, glorious bulb.

If you go on a local garlic tour and come home with a basket full of bulbs, try braising them in olive oil with herbs.  They will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks, and are great spread on crusty bread, tossed into a beet  or roasted pepper salad, pureed into an olive oil dressing, or used in any way you can imagine!

garlic

Oil-Braised Garlic With Herbs

  • 4 cups peeled garlic cloves, about 10 heads of garlic
  • 2-3 dried bay leaves
  • 8 – 10 sprigs fresh thyme or rosemary
  • 1 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • Kosher salt
  • A blend of half canola, half extra-virgin olive oil, enough to just cover the garlic, about 2 cups

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F.

Place the garlic cloves in a Dutch oven or ceramic baking dish.  Add bay leaves, herbs, peppercorns, and generous sprinkling of salt.  Pour in enough oil to just barely cover the garlic. Cover with a lid or foil and braise until cloves are very tender, about 1 hour.  Remove from oven and cool to room temperature.

Place the garlic and oil in a sterilized glass jar (see instructions below).  Press a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper gently down onto the surface of the oil.  Place another piece of plastic wrap over the jar’s rim and twist on the lid or secure with a rubber band.  Store in the refrigerator.  Each time you scoop out some of the garlic to use, be sure to use a clean fork or spoon, and replace a clean piece of plastic over the oil.

jar2

To sterilize your jar:

Place clean, empty jar(s) in a large pot.  Completely cover the jar(s) with water.  Bring to boil over high heat.  Once the water reaches a vigorous boil, continue boiling for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and carefully remove jar(s) from water with tongs and fill.  If you are not quite ready to use your jars, you can leave them in the hot water for one hour – any longer, and you’ll need to sterilize them again.

P.S. — I discovered that I just missed the 2nd annual June Braise Garlic Fest in Milwaukee!!!  I’m putting it on my calendar NOW for next year!

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