by Marnie Record, LLCC workforce specialist
My dog has fleas and a coworker says, “garlic!” I feel a cold coming on and a friend says, “garlic!” My bathroom drain is cracked and the plumber says, “garlic!” Well, that last one didn’t really happen, but if duct tape isn’t the answer then garlic is. There’s scarcely a meal that doesn’t call for garlic or an illness for which garlic hasn’t been prescribed.
I witnessed the magic of garlic at a recent local food dinner silent auction as a basket of this homegrown vegetable sold for 57 percent above the retail value. Garlic has been occupying pantries and medicine kits since the beginnings of human history. It serves as a staple in the kitchen, infusing flavor into any meal. You can even try garlic ice cream or garlic jelly at one of the many dozens of garlic festivals in the U.S. It’s also a cure for all that ails. And we all know about garlic’s legendary status as a protector against vampires and other evil spirits popularized by Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”
No other food has quite the allure or repulsion as garlic. Garlic is one of the earliest documented plants used for both maintaining health and treating disease. And it has the rare distinction of being found in medical textbooks from all the major ancient cultures including Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and India. Garlic was originally fed to laboring classes in early civilizations to improve their strength, enabling people to work harder for longer. It’s long been used during war as an antiseptic and dysentery cure due to garlic’s ability to kill germs and reduce the possibility of wound infections.
In fact, the list showcasing the ways garlic is used to prevent or treat disease reads like a dictionary. It includes everything from combating the common cold and reducing blood pressure to minimizing pain from rheumatoid arthritis and cancer prevention.
The power of garlic comes from the allicin compound, responsible for both the healing properties and the aroma. It is believed that the benefits of garlic are most absorbed when the garlic is chopped or crushed. Much of the literature advocates for eating raw garlic to optimize the health benefits. This can be achieved in salad dressings; with tomatoes in bruschetta, salsa and pasta sauce; or in dips like hummus and pesto.
While garlic can be planted in the spring, fall is the preferred time for most growers. The optimal time for planting ranges from mid-October through early November, but I’ve heard of farmers successfully planting their garlic as late as mid-December. Planting too early will result in too much above ground growth. Planting now through the end of fall allows the bulb to spend the winter developing its root system so that it can take off above ground in the spring for a complete bulb formation.
It takes new seed stock several years to adapt to the growing conditions of a specific place. For this reason garlic growers recommend investing in smaller quantities of excellent seed stock and multiplying it up year after year. Individual cloves of garlic need to be planted with the pointy end up about two to three inches deep and six inches apart. Choose bulbs with a nice shape and plump cloves that feel dense and heavy. Often, the larger cloves result in larger mature garlic bulbs at harvest. During a recent year of flooding when many people lost their garlic crop, one LLCC community gardener maintained a strong harvest, convinced that it was due to his diligence in selecting the best bulbs each year for replanting.
In the spring when growth above ground resumes, periodic watering helps bulb formation. Removing the flower stalks called “scapes” also increases the bulb size. Optimum harvest time is when half or slightly more than half of the leaves are still green. After digging the plant carefully with roots and shoots intact, the bulb needs to cure for a few weeks in a dry area with air circulation. This can be done on an old window screen or by hanging the garlic stalks. After drying, the tops can be cut back to about one inch and the roots cut close to the base of the bulb. Removing the soil from the roots helps keep the bulb dry.
There have been many years when squash bugs have decimated my cucurbits and Japanese beetles have taken out my basil, but garlic repeatedly offers an abundant return for little effort. For this reason, I’m endeared to garlic for life.
Fresh Basil Pesto
I put this on almost anything – eggs for breakfast, veggies, pizza and lots more. I also like to use it as a dip for tortilla chips.
*4 cups basil leaves
*6-8 garlic cloves, chopped
*1 cup pine nuts or walnuts
*1 cup parmesan
*Salt to taste
*Olive oil to consistency
In a food processor, blend basil, garlic, nuts and salt while drizzling in olive oil until it reaches the desired consistency. Pulse in parmesan.
This time of year, I use sweet potatoes and the many nutrient dense leafy greens brimming at farmers’ markets. I also like to top this dish with an avocado and a high quality finishing olive oil.
*6-8 garlic cloves, minced
*1 pound ground meat
*1 pound of vegetables, chopped
*1 tablespoon olive oil
*Salt and pepper to taste
*Parsley, cilantro, scallions, chives, or basil to preference
Heat skillet to medium heat.
Add garlic and cook until light brown.
Add meat and stir to mix so as to not burn the garlic. Cook until meat is browned through. Take out of pan and hold warm.
Add vegetables to skillet and cook until done to your likeness.
Add meat to the vegetables in the skillet.
Season with salt and pepper.
Top with fresh herb of choice.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Value-Added Local Food, Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, and Baking/Pastry, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.