It is sad to admit, but until yesterday, I knew nothing about garlic. Really, I knew nothing. I cooked with it regularly, but I had not yet discovered fresh garlic and all of its amazing varieties and flavours. You see, until this week, the only garlic I had ever used was garlic I purchased at the grocery store, the kind that comes from China. Now I’m not even sure that I should call that stuff garlic.
Earlier in the week, Greg had asked me if I wanted him to pick up some fresh garlic at one of the nearby farms on his way home from work. The garlic crop is in, and the signs for Fresh Garlic are out. I said yes, as in the past, I have only seen the “sorry, sold out” sings. On Tuesday, Greg brought some home.
At first, when I discovered how much he had paid for the garlic ($2 to $3 a head), I was somewhat appalled. I pulled out the three pack of garlic that I had recently picked up at the grocery store and showed him, stating how I had paid a total of $0.59 for that. But, what was done was done, so I pushed the thought of the cost aside. I used a clove of that fresh from the farm, picked just that morning, local garlic for my experiment with some kale chips. OMG! That fresh garlic was sooooo good! Just taking a clove out of the head, I could tell this was a different product than what I knew.
The garlic clove was still tightly in the head, not all dry and falling apart. And the skin around each clove had purple tinges. And when I sliced into it, the garlic was firm and juicy! And the fragrance… It smelled so fresh, and garlicky and almost a little sweet. The kale chips were very successful, with a wonderful garlic flavour.
So after that, I was no longer upset about the cost of the garlic. Clearly, the product is worth a higher price.
My garlic discoveries don’t end there. Yesterday, I went to one of the local farmer’s markets, which was also hosting the annual Garlic Festival. And so my garlic adventure really started.
First off, the sheer number of vendors selling garlic was impressive. Stand after stand after stand, all selling garlic. To neophyte me, when I first saw that, I thought I would base myself on price. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.
There are many, many varieties of garlic. I realized that as I wandered from vendor to vendor. And the different varieties all taste different. Noticeably different. Fortunately for this newbie, several sellers had tasting stations, like this one, set up.
This vendor had about ten different varieties. I was quite shocked upon my first taste. I tried a variety called “Rosewood”. It seemed pretty innocuous as a name. Surprise! This variety was hot and spicy! Very hot. I didn’t even know garlic could be hot or spicy. Strong maybe, but hot? Spicy? That was outside my experience until yesterday. As you know, I am not into spicy food, so you might be thinking that it was just me. Well, others around me that tasted that one also agreed that it had “quite a kick”. The next one I tried, “Red Russian” was a much milder flavour. It was so different from the first one. Was the flavour of garlic, but much smoother than the first. I made a mental note of that one, knowing I enjoyed it. The third sample I tried seemed mild at first, but then it had a spicy hot finish. Very surprising to me. Had I sampled these different garlic varieties blind, I would not have guessed that they were all the same seasoning. The flavours were so different from one another.
Another thing that surprised be about garlic is that the number of cloves and the size of the cloves varies from one variety to the next. This one, that Greg brought me last week (variety unknown, but from a local farm), only had four cloves in the head of garlic, but they are huge!
I chopped some finely today for the souvlaki marinade I was making, and one clove equalled a full tablespoon! The stuff I buy at the grocery store is much smaller than that. But other varieties that were being sold have smaller, more numerous cloves.
Eventually, after making the rounds, I purchased several varieties of garlic, so that we can decide what we like best. I have them labelled; otherwise it will be a mystery. And they are stored in my new garlic basket, which I bought from the wire sculptor who made it and was there selling them.
Garlic should be stored in a dark, cool, dry place, with air flow. Most varieties that were being sold at the Garlic Festival yesterday should store well and keep until spring. Despite Greg’s reaction at seeing that I had purchased ‘a ton of garlic!’ I know I did not purchase near enough to last us until next year’s crop, so sadly, will have to buy grocery store garlic again in the future. But for now, we will have fun discovering what some of those varieties have to offer.