Garlic adds flavorful punch to food and is effective healing agent

If you’re a garlic lover, now is the prime time to buy garlic, according to Robert Dunkel, editor of

If you’re a garlic lover, now is the prime time to buy garlic, according to Robert Dunkel, editor of The Garlic Press for the Garlic Seed Foundation. Farmers have just harvested and dried it to ready it for market.

Brian DeBraccio, one of the owners of Fort Hunter Farms in Rotterdam, plants his garlic around Columbus Day. It sprouts in the spring, is harvested at the end of July and then hung up and dried until he takes it to market.

“The fresher it is, the better it’s going to be,” said DeBraccio.

People around the world have been cultivating garlic for 5,000 years, eating it as well as using it for medicinal purposes. Garlic is grown in every state in the United States except Alaska, with California farmers doing about 89 percent of the growing. New York makes the list of the four other states that harvest more than 100 acres of garlic annually.

Over the past two decades, domestic garlic growers have faced stiff competition from China, which produces roughly 23 billion pounds of garlic a year, accounting for 75 percent of the garlic grown worldwide. Since 2001, imports of garlic from China have increased 15-fold. American growers are eager to educate the public about the benefits of locally grown garlic, and growers have been working on improving the cultivation and classification of it for many years.

Softneck and hardneck

There are two main categories of garlic: softneck and hardneck. Softneck varieties are grown in milder climates, and their cloves are smaller. The hardneck varieties are the best kind to grow in northern climates like upstate New York. They are larger, and have a hard stem that remains in the middle of the head of garlic when it is harvested. Hardneck varieties produce scapes, a flowering pod that comes out of the top of the plant and can be cooked and eaten or made into pesto.

To make their garlic bulbs larger, growers remove the scape so that all the energy goes to the bulb, said Jacob Hooper, who, with his parents and his wife, Sarah, runs Barber’s Farm in Middleburgh. The farm sustained major crop losses in the flooding after Hurricane Irene, but the garlic was harvested in July and is still available at the farm stand, Hooper said.

When you’re buying garlic, you should look for garlic that is nice and firm, without any soft spots, DeBraccio said. Cloves should not have a strong garlic odor, and there shouldn’t be any green shoots growing from the clove. The cloves should be tightly closed, and the outside skin should be tight as well.

If stored properly, garlic will last for a long time. “In the past, we have been eating our previous year’s garlic at the same time we’re harvesting this year’s garlic,” Hooper said.

The Hoopers harvest their garlic in the third to the last week of July. “When the garlic is fresh like that, it needs to get a lot of air to continue to cure,” said Hooper, who grows German red and German white varieties. They let the garlic sit out on wire tables for months. When freezing temperatures approach, they move the garlic into mesh bags in an unheated garage. When temperatures drop even more, they put the garlic in his parents’ basement. “We store them cool, dark and dry until December or January, until they’ve dried to a point where they might do better with a little bit of an increase in humidity so they don’t dry out completely,” he said.

There are also other ways to save garlic. If you have a lot of garlic and are concerned about it sprouting, garlic can be stored in the freezer, unpeeled. “Break apart the cloves, put it in a freezer bag, and throw it in the freezer,” said Diane Whitten, a nutrition educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Saratoga County. It’s important to make sure that the garlic is tightly wrapped, otherwise the garlic flavor might penetrate other food in the freezer.

Another way to store garlic in the freezer is to peel the cloves and purée them in oil, using two parts oil to one part garlic. The oil makes the garlic into a soft paste that can be scraped out a bit at a time to use for sautéing.

Peeled cloves of garlic can be put in dry red or white wine and stored in the refrigerator. They’re good to use as long as there is no yeast or mold growing on the surface of the wine. The garlic-flavored wine can also be used in cooking.

Healing agent

The American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicine credits garlic with a host of healing properties, including the ability to fight bacteria and fungi, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and help treat cold and flu, to name a few.

Heat from cooking stops the release of the elements in garlic that help to fight disease. To reap the health benefits, Dunkel said it is important to chop it and wait for about 10 minutes before using it. “Until it’s bitten in or chopped, it doesn’t create the sulfur compounds that are so healthy,” he said. Since cooking diminishes its nutritional benefits, add garlic toward the end of cooking a dish.

People often burn garlic by cooking it too long, which gives it a bitter taste, said Whitten.

One of Whitten’s favorite ways to use garlic is to simply mince it and mix it with a little butter or oil for making garlic bread. Raw garlic packs a punch, as it is much more pungent than cooked garlic, and the finer it’s chopped, the stronger the flavor.

“Eating it raw is pretty tasty,” said Sarah Hooper. “A slice of German red on a cracker with a slice of cheddar cheese is a really yummy snack,” she said.

Garlic-mashed Turnips and Potatoes

Recipe by Diane Whitten of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Saratoga County.

• 1 pound turnips, peeled and diced

• 1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced

• 4 cloves garlic, peeled

• 3 tablespoons butter

• 2 tablespoons plain yogurt

Pepper to taste

Boil turnips, potatoes and garlic for 10 minutes in pot of salted water, until the vegetables are tender. Drain. Put vegetables through a food mill or ricer. Beat in the butter and yogurt. Season with pepper, if desired.

Garlic Pasta

Recipe from JoAnne Cloughly, associate professor at SUNY Cobleskill.

• 8 ounces dry ribbon-type pasta

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 3 cloves garlic, crushed

• 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

• 1 teaspoon garlic salt

• 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped

• 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare pasta following package directions. While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a sauté pan. Add garlic and cook until soft but without color. Add the red pepper flakes and the garlic salt. Drain pasta when done and place in large bowl. Toss sauce with pasta and parsley. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Roasted Garlic Green Beans

Recipe from JoAnne Cloughly, associate professor at SUNY Cobleskill.

• 1 head of garlic

• 1 1⁄2 tablespoons olive oil

• 1 pound green beans, washed and trimmed

• 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut top off head of garlic and rub with olive oil. Wrap tightly in foil and place on a tray in oven. Roast until garlic is very soft.

Remove from oven and allow to cool. When cool, squeeze garlic from its papery skin and discard the skin. Set the garlic aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add green beans and blanch to a crisp tender stage. Immediately remove from water and plunge into ice cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain and set aside.

In a sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add green beans and sauté until hot. Add 1 teaspoon of the garlic mash and sauté until hot. Season with salt and pepper.

Any remaining garlic can be frozen for future use.

Sautéd Kale With Garlic And Onion

Recipe from JoAnne Cloughly, associate professor at SUNY Cobleskill.

Serves 4.

• 1 pound dark green kale leaves, stems removed and leaves chopped, then washed and dried

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 1⁄2 cup chopped onion

• 2 cloves fresh garlic, very finely minced

• Salt and ground black pepper to taste

• 1 1⁄2 cups water

Vinegar (optional)

Heat oil in heavy sauté pan. Sauté onion 3 to 4 minutes until it starts to brown. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add the chopped kale to the onion and garlic mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Let the kale wilt for 2-3 minutes and then add 1⁄2 cup water, stir, and let the kale cook in the water until the pan is almost dry. Add 1⁄2 cup additional water and cook kale 5-10 minutes more, then add a third 1⁄2 cup of water and cook kale 5-10 minutes more.

After you’ve added water and cooked it off three times, taste to see if the kale is tender. If not, repeat this step one more time. When the kale is very tender and the pan is nearly dry, season as desired with vinegar.

Garlic Bread

Recipe by Sarah Hooper of Barber’s Farm in Middleburgh.

• 1⁄4 pound butter

• 2-3 cloves garlic, minced

• 1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

• 1⁄2 teaspoon each salt and pepper

• 1⁄2 teaspoon oregano, if desired

• 1 loaf French bread, split

Mix ingredients together, spread on a loaf of French bread and bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Categories: Life and Arts

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