GILROY. Calif. — You couldn't get away from it, and most people didn't want to. Some had come many miles, even from other countries, to expose themselves for one weekend to the overpowering aroma of Allium sativum, better known as garlic.
Legend says that Gilroy, the garlic capital of the world, makes its title evident as soon as one nears the town. And that is true, at least during the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, when thousands of pounds of the bulbous seasoning are processed for garlic bread, pesto, stuffed mushrooms and other zesty delicacies sold at festival stands.
This year, the aroma reached full strength by Day Two, pungently enveloping the town and extending well beyond. Much of it came from Gourmet Alley, a row of seven stands where volunteer chefs put 5,000 pounds of garlic into prodigious quantities of food. And that was only part of the garlic consumed, for there were 80 additional stalls selling barbecued oysters with garlic sauce, garlic barbecued turkey legs, Gilroy garlic sausage, pizza with garlic and cheese and other highly seasoned dishes.
In the wine-tasting tent, sippers inhaled the intense bouquet of garlic-flavored dinner wine made by Rapazzini, a local winery. For dessert there was garlic-flavored ice cream. And for personal adornment, there was Garlique, a perfume ballyhooed as "the shameless scent of desire that delicately masks the odor of Scope on your breath." The perfume's garlic juice base and rose bouquet amounted to an olfactory rendition of garlic's nickname, "the stinking rose."
This year, the three-day festival, held July 25-27, attracted 142,000, setting a new attendance record. In addition to eating, the garlic lovers bought garlic braids and wreaths, garlic-themed pins, place mats, aprons, hats and potholders, garlic presses and cookbooks laden with garlic recipes. They drank from garlic mugs and garlic wine glasses. And they wore garlic T-shirts, including a red, white and blue model emblazoned with the Statue of Liberty holding aloft a head of garlic and promising "Liberty & Garlic for All."
Eight finalists, including one from New York, paid their way to compete in a garlic cooking contest that had attracted entries from as far as Paris. Winner Bob Salyers of Monterey prepared ravioli with a cheese-and-garlic filling topped with garlic bechamel sauce and shrimp. Salyers almost missed the cook-off because he forgot his ravioli form and turned back just north of Prunedale to get it.
Top prize was $500 and a garlic crown. "This is the first recipe I ever wrote down. I just picked the things I thought would go with garlic," Salyers said.
The second-place award of $300 went to Roxanne E. Chan of Albany, Calif., for eggplant slices topped with Italian sausage and garlic-seasoned meringue and surrounded by garlicky red pepper cream.
Ira J. Jacobson of Oakland came in third and won $200 for noodles that were colored green with spinach, flavored with fresh garlic and topped with an onion and garlic sauce sweetened with honey and Marsala wine. Jacobson munches on raw garlic cloves while cooking.
The dishes were judged on appearance and presentation, flavor and how well they used garlic. Although she didn't win, Patty Filice of Gilroy made a strong impression in the last category. Filice used four heads of garlic in a soup that tasted amazingly garlic-free. By roasting the garlic for an hour, she had reduced it to a powerless, creamy puree.
Gilroy garlic boosters explained that 90% of the nation's commercial garlic crop is grown in California, and most of it passes through Gilroy for fresh packing and shipping or processing. However, the bulk of the crop no longer is grown there because soil conditions have made it necessary to rotate the land to vegetables.
Other growing areas are the San Joaquin and Imperial valleys, and seed is raised in Oregon and Nevada. California has early and late crops of garlic; the early harvest starts toward the end of May and yields larger cloves than the late harvest in July. The garlic festival celebrates the end of the harvest.
The following recipes sample the skills of Gilroy garlic cooks. They start with Salyers' prize-winning ravioli recipe and Filice's garlic roasting method. Upside-Down Garlic Bomb, entered in the contest by Paul La Combe of Paris, was named the best foreign entry although distance prevented La Combe from participating in the cook-off.
Recipe demonstrations apart from the contest featured John Bautista's ginger chicken wings (see related story below) and Val Filice's ground-beef patty variation on the Italian stuffed steak called braciole.