It’s garlic scramble time. That means it’s that time of year when we are all scrambling to find those unique bulbs that you simply can’t find in the stores. Is it just me, or does it seem that gourmet garlic varieties are hard to find this year? All my traditional website resources have posted “sold out” notices since August, leading me to believe either they are taking a lot of advanced orders or the weather was so rotten across the country this year, there just isn’t that much to go around – or both. Course, we all saw the mega-bucks the Chinese were making by hoarding these bulbs more precious than gold…or wait – maybe we didn’t see those mega-bucks. We’re mucking in the quagmire of a recession. Well, when all else fails, I will still have garlic, along with visions of exotic places that accompany gourmet delights. “Bogatyr,” “Persian Star,” “Asian Tempest” … mmm … inhale deeply….
Yes, we garlic epicureans (I hesitate to call us gastronomes because of the inherent implication in the word) are a savory bunch. We meet in obscure corners of the gardens and privately show each other our wares. “So, say…” a hooded stranger said to me the other day, “would you be willing to trade a little Vekak for some fire-breathing Korean Red?”
This person has hit me at a weak point. I am going through my annual debate on whether to cut back on what has become not so much an addiction, but perhaps a bit of a compulsion. Ok, Ok, so maybe I have a little problem … but on the heels of a very good year when many have suffered disappointment and outright defeat, I am soaring with the endorphins of success (are we still talking about garlic here?), and yes, admittedly tempted. Salivating with temptation, in fact. Being careful not to drool in public, even.
The urgent time is nigh: garlic planting season is upon us. We cannot afford to wait the debate outcomes. If you don’t get it now, you won’t have the option later. Gotta get it while ya can, because the good stuff is disappearing fast.
And so, once again, I am experiencing that phenomenon of what is called, “garlic creep.” That’s where you think you’re going to have just a small plot of a few varieties of garlic, but as you go through the garlic, you just can’t bear NOT to plant some of these beautiful bulbs that hold so much promise. You just can’t bear NOT to try that enticing variety you have yet had the opportunity to experience in all its richness. And so the next thing you know, you are seeking places throughout the garden to stash just a little more garlic.
Sure. There are those who are in this for the money. Growing garlic can be a successful business – and we can talk about that in another post if you like. These people will choose varieties based on size, exterior beauty, and on what will thrive in their soil and climate. They fully understand supply and demand relationships and anticipate trends. Makes sense to me. And on the social side, I have made a lot of friends through my little garlic business, perhaps at the expense of other not-so-enamored-with-garlic friends and relatives preferring to keep their distance.
But we’re not talking about business savvy, social issues, or least of all, common sense here. We are talking about blind desire – the growers who seek out those grubby little gnarly bulbs that hide an explosion behind their obscurity. Ah yes. Most of us garlic growers are a combination of the two. Our business affords us the luxury of indulging in the latter. I like to keep a few bargaining chips on the table.
“What is best?” “What kind to get?” These are my two most-oft asked questions – and I truly can’t say what is best because I am still in the process of trying them all and I have a long way to go. It is the journey, after all. I would advise, though, if you can, to get a few of each of the main varieties, within the limits of your growing conditions: Artichokes, Silverskins, Porcelains, Rocamboles, Purple Stripes (which can be divided into Standard, Glazed, or Marbled) … and then there are the Asiatics, Creoles, and Turbans, which I do not have outside my personal stash (ahm).
And if you’re not going to grow them but just eat them, well then, of course, just buy everything and have a party!
Here’s the updated status on what we still have for sale and/or trade at Barbolian Fields, along with some brief guidelines to help you in what is, I know, an agonizing decision.
Artichokes – Very large, early-maturing, long-storing garlics, with lots of cloves. Overall, they tend to have mild- to medium-heat, can be eaten raw, and add subtle flavor without being overpowering. They can be grown in warmer climates and are beautiful in braids.
Currently available Barbolian varieties: Polish White, Inchelium Red, and the famed Transylvanian.
Silverskins – These are usually the last to mature and also the longest storing. They have lots of cloves – perfect for smashing & throwing in a stew – and come in a wide range of flavors. They make gorgeous braids.
Currently available Barbolian varieties: Western Rose
Porcelains – If you like big bulbs with a few fat cloves, that grows almost everywhere, stores a long time, has outstanding flavor along with a very high allicin content, and is arguably one of the most beautiful varieties – this is your variety. “Robust” in all senses of the word pretty much describes it. I mean, really, what is there not to like about these garlics?
Currently available Barbolian varieties: German Extra Hardy, Romanian Red, Rosewood
Purple Stripes – I admit to playing favorites with the Purple Stripes. They just grow so well, have such great flavor, maybe not the largest, but their few cloves/bulb come in just the right sizes, a sweet bulb for roasting, and yes, they are eye candy – their colors are just so striking. I grow more Purple Stripes than any other variety, and among those, the Siberians have performed exceedingly well. As a hardneck, they don’t store as long as their softneck counterparts, but can easily be eaten first.
Currently available Barbolian varieties: Brown Tempest, Persian Star, Russian Giant, and Siberian.
Rocamboles – These do best in colder climates, so if you can grow them, you must. Rocamboles are not about size, beauty, or storage – in fact, they have the shortest shelf life of the garlics – they are, however, ALL about flavor, and if you like them bold, rich, and hot – oh yeah, these are for you.
Currently available Barbolian varieties: 1st-year small bulbs of the Juan de Fuca Wonders grown from bulblets in the scapes. They can be sized up for next year – or just consumed (which is what I tend to do with these in large quantities). Might have a Killarney Red & a Carpathian out there. These have gone quickly, sorry.
So there you have it. If you haven’t gotten your garlic fix – warning – supplies are dwindling fast! Contact me!