Garlic is easy to grow and can be a versatile addition to a cook’s repertoire.
Do you casually drop names such as Music, Italian Purple Stripe and Nootka Rose into conversations about food? Do you turn up your nose at minced garlic sold in jars and roll your eyes in disbelief when someone confesses he or she doesn’t know the difference between softneck and hardneck garlic varieties? You may be a garlic snob. That’s OK. Like wine, chocolate and cheese lovers, garlic fanatics are allowed to boast about their favorites.
But if you have never tried black garlic, you have some catching up to do.
Black garlic is created by aging and fermenting raw garlic. Descriptions of the taste vary greatly, but many people say it echoes molasses, roasted caramel or tamarind, a tropical fruit. Its versatility has won the admiration of chefs.
“Black garlic has so many great uses … marinades, vinaigrettes, sauces or just simply warmed up on some crunchy French bread,” says Brandt Evans, chef-partner of the Blue Canyon Kitchen and Tavern in Summit County’s Twinsburg. “It has a deep, mysterious flavor. When you use fresh garlic, which is great, you can sometimes have that big garlic punch that takes over the flavors on the dish and that is all you can taste. With black garlic, you get that wonderful garlic flavor, but it is not such a punch in the mouth.” Evans claims to be the first known chef/restaurateur to use black garlic in Ohio. Today, black garlic, primarily imported from Asia, can be found in some grocery and health food stores.
“Black garlic has been around since Egyptians put garlic cloves in a clay jar in a dark, cool cave for months to ferment. I get a kick out of using something that has such a long, interesting history,” says Evans.
Ohioans aren’t fermenting garlic in caves. But a number of small farmers and specialty crop growers are producing a wide variety of superior nonfermented garlic.
When attorneys Mary Beth Webster and David Maistros of Chagrin Falls moved into an 1858 farmhouse nine years ago, they had no intention of becoming garlic growers. But friends wondered what the couple would plant on the 17-acre property.
They chose garlic because “it is fairly easy to grow, is disease resistant and the deer don’t eat it,” says Webster.
So Garlic Stone Farm began with 50 plants and this year grew to 15,000. Webster is aiming for 50,000. Plants are harvested in July and hung and dried on lines for two or three weeks in an old barn, which during other times of the year holds batting cages for their two sons and a youth baseball program. The garlic is sold online and shipped in September for customers to plant in October, considered an ideal time to plant garlic in Ohio.
Garlic Stone Farm’s Garlic Growing 101: Break a bulb apart into cloves. Dig a hole about three inches deep and drop in a clove pointed side up, root down. Plant cloves about six inches apart. Garlic is fairly tolerant of most soils, but hates weeds, so mulch with straw or plastic. Water regularly, but don’t fertilize the last two weeks before harvest or the result will be more leaves than bulb.
Among the farm’s offerings: Kettle River Giant, which grows up to 4 inches across and does well in cold climates, and Xian, a beautiful deep-red striped bulb originating in China.
“There is a group of people who like to try different kinds of garlic to plant every year,” says Webster, who offers 24 varieties.
Garlic enthusiasts also eat green garlic, immature garlic that produces a small bulb harvested before cloves form. Scapes, the plant’s immature flower stalks, are also considered a delicacy by some. Scapes from Garlic Stone Farm have been used by a nearby restaurant as a pizza topping.
Mike and Amy Miller are owners of Miller’s Gourmet Garlic, located outside Youngstown. Despite “long hours, a few bee stings and a few bouts of poison ivy,” the couple has grown award-winning crops.
“We moved from the city six years ago, built a barn, bought some tractors and took a crash course on farming. After realizing our garlic was prized by many locals and farm markets, it seemed we found our niche,” says Amy Miller. The farm is currently focusing on German, Polish, Italian and Russian garlic varieties.
“Garlic is like salt. There are so many kinds that people don’t even know about. And certain kinds of garlic go
better with certain kinds of dishes. That’s why I am a huge fan of black garlic that works so well with so many things,” says Blue Canyon’s Evans. “But make sure you chop any garlic properly so you don’t get any big chunks or flakes in your dish.
“Also, recipes tell you to add garlic at the beginning. But I am totally against that. Add garlic in the last couple minutes. The heat will give it a great flavor.”
Chef Evans also shakes his head sadly at the thought of cooks using too much garlic.
“It’s like a symphony. You don’t want the tuba player to be the loudest. You need that player to back down and let the other players be heard, too. That’s how to use garlic.”
Of course, we all know garlic keeps vampires (and maybe werewolves) away from our door. But perhaps no other plant is surrounded by so much folklore.
“Over time, garlic has been used to attempt to cure every disease and disaster known to man,” says Karen Kennedy, educator with the Herb Society of America in Lake County’s Kirtland. “But in my research I have found that some of the mythical or historic uses for plants have later been proven by science.”
Today, for example, garlic is prized for its antibacterial and antioxidant properties and its ability to reduce blood pressure.
Kennedy isn’t buying the idea that a garlic clove pinned to the lapel of a bridegroom in the Middle East will ensure “a happy wedding night.” But garlic folklore around the world still fascinates her:
¦ When robbers plundered the bodies of black plague victims in Marseilles, France, centuries ago, they doused their clothing with what became known as Four Thieves Vinegar. Its main ingredient was garlic. The thieves also washed themselves with the herb and sprinkled it around their homes. They felt the garlic protected them from the epidemic and the vinegar made them wealthy, according to Kennedy. The concoction is still available today.
¦ Aristotle believed garlic cured rabies; Mohammed urged garlic to treat scorpion bites; and Hippocrates recommended it
“for people who intended to drink excessively or who were already inebriated.”
¦ In Northwest America, garlic has been used to get rid of unwanted lovers. A clove pierced with intersecting pins was placed in the middle of two roads that intersected. The offending lover was asked to walk over the garlic, at which time he or she would immediately lose interest. How someone was convinced to participate is unknown.
Black Garlic Berry Jam
Courtesy of Brandt Evans, chef-partner, Blue Canyon Kitchen and Tavern, Twinsburg
This jam is a sinful treat on good bread or toast, crackers, grilled shrimp, salmon or rib-eye steak.
1 pound strawberries, hulled and quartered
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 lemon, seeded
1 pound mixed blueberries, blackberries and raspberries
4 black garlic bulbs, chopped/sliced
Toss strawberries with sugar in large, nonreactive pan; let stand. Stir occasionally until sugar is mostly dissolved, about an hour. Squeeze lemon over strawberries and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
Cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until strawberries are just softened; about 5 minutes. Add mixed berries and black garlic; cook over moderate heat until liquid runs off the side of a spoon in thick, heavy drops, 20–25 minutes. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface of the jam.
Discard lemon and spoon mixed-berry jam into three 1/2-pint jars, leaving about 1/4 inch of space at the top. Close jars and cool to room temperature. Store jam in refrigerator for up to three months.
GET YOUR GARLIC
Cleveland Garlic Festival, Sept. 7–8
North Union Farmers’ Market, Cleveland 44120, 216/751-7656,
Find vendors of garlic plants and products at this fifth annual festival.
Crazy Horse Garlic Farm
1402 S. Crissey Rd., Holland 43528, 419/867-7826, crazyhorsegarlicfarm.com
Organic garlic, garlic braids, online sales
Charlie’s Gourmet Garlic Farm
2268 Middleton Rd., Hudson 44236, charliesgourmetgarlic.com
Hardneck/softneck garlic, online sales, farm sales
Garlic Stone Farm
Chagrin Falls, garlicstonefarm.com
Hardneck/softneck garlic for planting; online sales
Garlic Dave’s Root Cellar
Novelty 44072, 440/669-9957, email@example.com
Music hardneck only, garlic powder, online sales
Miller’s Gourmet Garlic
Online sales, also sold at farmers markets and The Coin Shop in Youngstown.
Thaxton’s Organic Garlic/Thaxton’s Family Farm
2710 Ravenna St., Hudson 44236, 330/283-6137, thaxtonsorganicgarlic.com
Hardneck/softneck garlic; available online or Hudson Farmer’s Market; site visits by appointment