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Music to my nose

(post, Cristin Couzens)


primary-image, l

Can you guess what vegetable this is? 

I'll wait.

Whenever I make my husband guess at something, he always asks for a hint.  You probably already know the answer, but just in case, here you go:   On a volunteer excursion to rural Mexico, my friend Dave ate some of it everyday because he didn’t trust our malaria medicine and was told it would ward off mosquitos.   I'm afraid of Dave, but not of this vegetable, which I wasn't sure actually was a vegetable until researching this post.   I love the smell, even when it lingers on my fingers after mincing it up.

Yep -- garlic.   This picture is pre-harvest, taken at a Zenger Farm volunteer work-party last week.  With stalks still attached, we strung 10 heads together, and the tall people in the group (meaning, not me)  hung them in the barn to dry.  Zenger is a 'non-profit farm and wetland in outer southeast Portland dedicated to promoting sustainable food systems, environmental stewardship and local economic development through a working urban farm.'  If you live in the Portland area, check it out!

I used to think there was only one kind of garlic, the big hulky white bulb kind you get in the grocery store, until I spotted something unusual at the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market.  Definitely garlic, but it was purple.  My mom, visiting from the East Coast, noticed the bulbs I'd brought home  and honed right in that this was not grocery store garlic and demanded to know where it came from, what kind is it was, and a series of other questions I didn’t know the answer to.  I just thought it looked pretty and that there were two kinds of garlic, white and purple.

Now I know the grocery store variety is most often soft-neck artichoke garlic, favored by commercial growers for its hardiness and those big hulky white bulbs. There seems to be some debate among garlic connoisseurs as to how many varieties of garlic there actually are. According to www.gourmetgarlicgardens.com the latest research finds 10 varieties, and somewhere near 600 sub-varieties have been documented. 

At Zenger Farm, I was in the presence of garlic royalty.  We were harvesting music garlic of the porcelain variety.  I would have looked closer at their milky-white-luxurious-parchment-like skin, but they were covered in dirt, it was hot, and I was too embarrassed that I was having so much trouble tying the string around the garlic bunch the way they showed us.

We pulled it up when it was pretty dry already.  Prairie, the Community Involvement Coordinator at Zenger, told us garlic can be eaten in the flowering stage before the bulbs have matured as scapes (the top green flowering parts), and in the early stages of bulb formation when they look more like a young spring onion.  In fact, they are easy to confuse with young spring onions, especially when they are displayed right next to young spring onions.  But they don’t taste anything like spring onions, especially when you pop a piece raw into your mouth, chew, and start crying.  But I wouldn’t know anything about that.

There's an increasing number of local growers out there providing unusal garlic varieties that offer nuanced and not so nuanced differences in taste. Try looking for something different next time you're in the market for garlic!

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