We all know that fall means planting bulbs such as tulips and daffodils that will reward us with beautiful color come spring time. However, there is another bulb that I think a lot of us often overlook. It’s not known for its bloom but more for its pungent flavor. I’m talking about garlic and October is the ideal time to plant it in our area.
I really never thought much about growing garlic and that was partly due to how readily available it is at the local grocery stores. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I purchased fresh, locally grown garlic for the first time and I’ve been hooked ever since. Experiencing the taste of fresh garlic from the garden totally surpasses what you’re accustomed to getting at the store.
The history behind garlic is very interesting and its true origin is commonly argued by historians. The use of garlic goes back as far as the Egyptian days but for the most part it’s believed it originated in central Asia.
In addition to its culinary uses, garlic possesses many medicinal benefits. Garlic has been known to lower blood pressure, provide antiseptic protection, lower bad cholesterol and protect against heart disease, just to name a few.
There are only two basic types of garlic, softneck and hardneck. You can easily tell them apart. If the stem at the top of the bulb is soft and papery, it is a softneck. Most of the garlic you see today in the store is the softneck variety. The botanical name for softneck garlic is Allium sativum and it does not produce a flowering stalk. The softnecks tend to have longer shelf lives than the hardnecks. They also tend to have more, but smaller cloves per bulb, and are sometimes harder to peel than hardnecks. This variety is the one that you will see braided or sometimes made into a decorative wreath. Recommended varieties; “German Extra Hardy,” “California” and “Mother of Pearl.”
Hardneck, as the name implies, has a hard stalk almost as thick as a pencil and are the hardier of the two varieties. The botanical name for hardneck garlic is Allium sativum ophioscorodon. Hardneck garlic will produce scapes which should be removed so that all the energy is directed towards the development of the bulb and not the bloom. Hardneck varieties will grow one ring of cloves around the stem and are larger than softneck cloves making them easier to work with in my opinion. Recommended Varieties; “Music,” “Spanish Roja” and “Chesnok Red.”
The one thing you have to try is roasting garlic, the flavor is absolutely wonderful! Every garlic fanatic has to have a garlic roaster, they’re mostly available in terra cotta clay and occasionally you’ll see cast iron versions, as well.
When roasting, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Just trim the upper quarter inch or so off the bulb, exposing the cloves. Drizzle olive oil and place in the oven and roast until soft, about 45 minutes.
After removing from the oven, you will need to squeeze the pulp from the bulb. Grip the bottom of the bulb and squeeze with your thumb and fingers. The pulp will easily slide out and remove any remaining bits and skins. Be careful, the garlic is extremely hot. Some garlic roasters come with a rubber holder that keeps you from potentially burning your finger tips.
Place the garlic in a ramekin, add olive oil and whisk into a creamy paste. Get creative by adding some of your favorite fresh or dried herbs. Forget the carbs; you can’t beat the subtle flavor of roasted garlic, especially when you spread it on your favorite bread.
Garlic is easy to grow, rewarding and well worth the wait. Plant cloves pointed side up, 3 inches deep, leave the paper on, space cloves about 6 inches apart. Plant in an area that receives full sun, make sure there is adequate drainage because garlic does not like wet feet. As with any new planting, always amend the soil with organic matter, compost or aged manures.
If you enjoy cooking with garlic then get planting! Check with your local garden centers and nurseries that sell fall bulbs, they should have garlic readily available.