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What to Do With Home-Grown Garlic

October 25, 1990|SCHUYLER INGLE | Ingle is a Seattle writer and co-author of "Northwest Bounty," Simon & Schuster (1988: $18.95). and

I had better pick the rest of the basil tonight and hang it upside down to dry in the dark in the basement. If I let it continue to grow, I may find one morning that it has turned black. It is getting colder.

I find myself eyeing compostable items with keen interest, like the leaves piling up in the nearby cemetery, a sure sign that fall is upon us.

I heard from a friend who heard from a friend about a woman with a two-truckload pile of horse manure in her back yard. She wants to get rid of it. I'm going over to start hauling it away. It's the real thing, see. No wood shavings, which take forever to break down and tie up nitrogen in the process. Without free access to nitrogen, most plants don't care to grow. With free access to composted horse manure, next year's garden ought to produce some interesting results.

The corn looks pathetic. It's time to pick the last ears and run the stalks through the shredder. My plan is to cut the corn off the last of the cobs and saute the kernels in sweet butter. No boiling this way. Just the bare elements: corn, butter, heat.

I have been surprised this year by my main accomplishment. I thought my first Melrose apples would consume my attention, but I am unabashedly proud of my garlic crop. It hangs next to the kitchen door in a long, 13-pound braid.

Kathy Lewis of Martin's Farm took pity on me and showed me how to braid garlic. That is to say, Kathy braided my garlic for me, though every once in a while I had a go at it, made a mess and handed it right back. My foolish garden pride, however, is undiminished and I am determined to plant garlic in a big way next year.

Garlic is an odd little bulb. Use a lot and it transforms a dish. Use a little and it gives itself over to other flavors, encouraging them to step forward. Like chile peppers, garlic has spread throughout the world. Chile peppers started in the New World. Garlic started in the Old World, moving south, then west and east with the horsemen and herdsmen who had a way of terrifying and conquering the then-known world.

It is said that Magellan found garlic in the Philippines and that Cortez found it in Mexico. It is likely both explorers carried garlic with them in their ships' stores, if not in their pockets.

My braid won't last long. I use too much of the stinking bulb. Each year I make a trip up near the Canadian frontier to visit Cloud Mountain Farm where I buy apples and bulk garlic. I'll come home with a big bag of loose bulbs and keep them in the basement. Cloud Mountain grows a garlic with silver skin, a garlic typical of Italy. By spring, the bulbs will have begun to show some green sprouts, and it will be time to plant garlic in the garden.

I guess it's the multiplication that has caught my attention, that for each clove of garlic I planted I was able to harvest an entire bulb, some of them bigger than others. If I'm careful to select out the biggest bulbs and plant those cloves next spring, I should have quite a handsome braid next year, as long as Lewis is willing to nurse me along.

In the meantime, there's enough garlic kicking around that I think I'll peel a couple of bulbs and roast the cloves. Browned and softened like that, garlic loses its sharpness and becomes sweet and nutty. Roasted garlic spread on a slice of fresh, crusty, chewy bread: This is what food gardening is all about.

ROASTED GARLIC

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon peanut oil

1 tablespoon olive oil

12 large cloves garlic, peeled

Salt

White pepper

Melt butter, peanut oil and olive oil in small, flame-proof casserole over medium heat. Place garlic cloves in oil in single layer, stirring to coat with mixture. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees 20 to 30 minutes, basting occasionally, until cloves are well browned and tender. Season to taste with salt and white pepper and serve warm. Makes 4 appetizer servings.

From "Cooking with Herbs" by Emelie Tolley (Clarkson N. Potter: 1989).

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