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Gardening: Parlez-Vous Garlic?

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garlicBring up the topic of Mediterranean food, and watch people swoon while they describe some scrumptious dish they tasted somewhere.

Why does the mention of such cuisine have this effect? The answer involves 1 word: garlic, known in Latin as allium sativum.

Like gun powder, garlic originated in Asia, but found its way to Western Europe where to this day it grows wild. Texas is emphatically not in Western Europe, but that is no reason whatsoever to do without this fresh-from-the-garden seasoning delight. Once you’ve tasted the stuff freshly harvested you will wonder how you ever ate without it.

Garlic bulbs from the grocery store produce department are perfect for planting between now and early November. Prepare for a l-o-n-g growing season. Break the bulb into individual cloves—the average bulb has about 20 which is more than enough for a nice row in the winter garden. I soak the cloves in tepid water for 30 minutes.

Till the soil, add plenty of compost then insert each clove about 2 inches deep, pointed end reaching for the sky like tulip bulbs. Allow one hand width between each clove. Push the amended soil over the cloves, give the plot a thorough drink then sit back until June.

Each clove will create an 18-24” long stem of flat, green leaves that freeze during winter cold spells, but not to worry, when the sun comes out they will defrost, and go right on growing. How’s that for versatile?

Winter growth is slow. If you unearth a plant in early spring you will see only 1 clove with a LOT of roots. Rebury it, and have faith. Sometime in June the green leaves and stem will die and turn brown. That means it is harvest time.

Loosen the bulbs, pull them out and lay in the sun to dry for a couple of days. After that trim the roots with scissors, braid up the dead stems and hang the drying, dirty bulb clusters somewhere in the shade to air dry.

You’ll feel like a French market vendor, I promise. I hang mine on the front porch (around the door to keep vampires away). DO NOT wash off the soil coat until you are ready to use the garlic. As long as it is dry, the garlic will be good to go for at least a year.

In the same vein, growing garlic is drought-resilient. It doesn’t mind dry toes, but don’t overdo the neglect, particularly during a long heat wave or dry winter. When the soil feels dry, give your plants a drink.

Here’s a Mediterranean recipe:
Break half the florets off a head of fresh cauliflower. Steam them until just tender then cut each one in slices. Over medium heat warm ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan, and sauté 1 or 2 crushed fresh garlic cloves according to your taste.

Stir in 1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh (or dried) parsley. Add the florets, mix well then salt and pepper to taste. Try this with steamed carrots too. Bon apétit!

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