The Stinking Rose

 

As a relative of the onion, shallot, leek and chive, garlic is the oldest known cultivated crop.  Garlic is believed to be derived from central Asian or Southwestern Siberia. Why it’s called The Stinking Rose is up for debate as it is more closely related to the lily family.  It could be because when you turn over a head of garlic, it does resemble a white rose. Another theory is that it’s sourced from its ancient Greek name, “scorodon”, roughly translated as “skaion rodon”, or stinking rose. 

 

Garlic is an essential ingredient in many foods, and has been used traditionally for thousands of years as medicine and in cultural rituals. There are hundreds of varieties but just two subspecies—hardneck and softneck. 

 

What’s the difference?

 

Producing a hermaphrodite flower called a “scape” which is lovingly pollinated by bees and butterflies, hardneck garlic can be propagated through the bulbils which form within the terminal pod at the end of the flower stalk. Harvesting this stalk in the spring, before it has a chance to bloom, is the key to producing larger heads. It lets all the energy go back into the plant and increases the bulb size. The scape is an amazing treat in the spring. Eaten raw or sauteed, it has a delicate garlic flavor prized by all who love garlic. Nearly all garlic in cultivation is propagated asexually by planting the individual cloves in late fall for a summer crop the following season. Typically grown in the north, hardneck garlic requires a period of cold and moist conditions followed by warm moist, called vernalization. The heads of this garlic tends to be much larger and are made up of 4-6 cloves surrounding the central stalk. Once cured, they are individually wrapped in dry, thick skin which makes them easy to peel. The flavors of hardneck garlic are complex, rich and spicy. The main downfall of hardneck garlic is that it does not store as well as softneck . They need to be kept in a moderately cool and humid environment with ample air flow.  They typically begin to deteriorate within 4-6 months, so use them up quickly! Some popular varieties are: German White, Porcelain, Rocambole, Spanish Roja, Chesnok Red and Purple Stripe. 

 

From the outside, it’s tough to tell a hardneck from a softneck garlic. But when cracked open, softneck heads don’t have a hard core at the center because they do not form a flower stalk. They have many cloves of different sizes surrounding a soft stem making the leaves ideal for braiding. Softneck garlic grows best in warmer climates as they are not generally hardy.  However, softneck varieties store very well, making them ideal for mass production. The heads will last for 9-12 months under ideal storage conditions. The flavor tends to be much more mild and less spicy than the hardneck. There are fewer varieties of this garlic, some which will grown in the Northeast are: Silverskin and Artichoke.

 

Elephant garlic is a perennial plant belonging to the onion genus.  It is not a true garlic, but actually a variant of the leek. It has a tall, solid flowering stalk and broad, flat leaves much like those of a leek, but forms a bulb consisting of very large, garlic-like cloves. It has a mild flavor in-between those of both garlic and onion.  It’s latin name is Amaryllidaceae, commonly known as the amaryllis family. 

 

80% of the world’s garlic comes from China, making it the largest producer in the world.  Ranking in 10th place, the United States grows less than 1% of China’s production. China also leads in consuming the most garlic at about 22 pounds per capita per year. In comparison, the average American consumes roughly 2 pounds. Renowned for its health benefits, garlic is considered a treatment for many conditions. From high blood pressure and high cholesterol, to treating colds and flu, acne, as well as being an antifungal. During WWI and WWII, garlic was used medically as a treatment for smallpox, dropsie and even an antiseptic against gangrene. 

 

Pass the tic-tacs

 

The phytochemicals responsible for the sharp taste of garlic are produced when the plants cells are damaged. When broken by chopping, chewing or crushing, enzymes stored in the cell vacuoles trigger the breakdown of sulfur containing compounds stored in the cell fluids. These compounds are believed to have evolved over time as a defense mechanism for deterring animals and insects. The strong smelling sulfur compounds are metabolized, forming allyl methyl sulfide (AMS).  When consumed, AMS can not be digested, so it is passed into the bloodstream. It is then carried to the lungs and the skin where it is excreted. Hence, garlic breath. The best way to neutralize the effects of AMS is to drink milk while consuming garlic. There is a compound in milk which counteracts AMS, the higher the fat content, the better.

 

Despite the negative side effect, garlic has been revered as an offering fit for the gods for over 5000 years. It was believed to ward off the evil eye, was hung in doorways to protect medieval occupants from bad spirits and vampires, it gave courage and strength to Greek athletes and warriors and kept away the black plague. It was also celebrated as an aphrodisiac and prescribed by Chinese doctors for erectile dysfunction, as well as believed to help with infertility. The ancient Egyptians used garlic as currency to both pay, and feed slaves and workers building the pyramids. Clay garlic bulbs were placed in Egyptian tombs as offerings to the gods in the dearly departeds’ afterlife. In England, garlic breath was deemed entirely unsuitable for the refined upper class.  Americans adopted this attitude and didn’t embrace garlic until the 1940’s. Until then it was considered an ethnic ingredient and known by slang terms such as “Italian perfume”. Garlic consumption in the United States has tripled since this time with more and more people discovering its healthful, and tasty properties. 

 

Roasted Garlic

 

With this recipe you can use any variety of garlic you please—hardneck, softneck or even elephant.

 

Preheat your oven to 350

 

Choose 2 or 3 large, firm bulbs of garlic, cut the very top of the bulb off exposing the tops of the individual cloves.  Wrap in aluminum foil or parchment paper, but before you close it tight, drizzle with olive oil. Roast until soft. Squeeze or spoon out the soft, garlic paste and spread on bread, add to mashed potatoes, swirl in pasta, put on your scrambled eggs…. It is a rich, savory, mild garlic flavor that makes anything delicious. 

 

Pickled Garlic

 

2 pounds of garlic  (approximately 20 bulbs), peeled and trimmed

¼ cup kosher salt

2 ½ cups water

2 ½ cups white or apple vinegar

4 teaspoons red pepper flakes

4 teaspoons dill seed

 

4 clean, sterilized pint canning jars 

 

Combine salt, water and vinegar in saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

 

Add 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes & dill seed to each jar, then pack with the garlic cloves leaving ½ inch of headspace.

 

Using a ladle, divide hot pickling brine between each jar leaving that ½ inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles, wipe jar rims and carefully place the lids and rings onto the jars, fingertip tight.

 

Process jars in water bath, boiling for 10 minutes.  The jars must be covered by at least 1 inch of water. Turn off heat, let cool for 5 minutes. Remove from jars and let cool for 12 hours.  Check seals. Store in refrigerator for up to 4 months.  

 

*If your garlic turns blue or turquoise, don’t worry.  This is perfectly normal and does not mean there is anything wrong.  It is a reaction from the sulfur in the garlic reacting with minerals that occur naturally in your water or from your pot. To avoid this from happening, you can use distilled water. 

 

Globalization has triumphed in the produce aisle. More than half the fresh fruits and one third of the vegetables in our supermarkets are imported from other countries.  But anyone with taste-buds knows that just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it tastes good. 

We are incredibly lucky to be living in one of the most fertile valleys in the Northeast. The soil in the Rondout Valley is called unadilla silt loam. It is a mineral rich, glacially deposited topsoil ideal for growing fruits, vegetables, and grains. Our region’s farms produce a wide variety of seasonal crops which are bursting with flavor and personality.  Here is our Autumnal locavore’s dilemma.  

We have so many varieties to choose from;  butternut or hubbard? – or should we try kabocha, acorn, buttercup, golden nugget, delicata, pink banana, neck pumpkin, turk’s cap, Long Island cheese, cushaw, cocozelle, Rouge Vif d’Etampes and many, many other squash and pumpkin —which are technically in the same family “cucurbitaceae” varieties—in various colors, shapes and sizes. What does this all mean? 

The name “squash” comes from the Narragansett Native American Indian word “askutasquash”. Originally believed to have been from Central America or Mexico, humans have used their hard shells as containers for utensils and have eaten the flesh, flowers, and young shoots raw or cooked for almost 10,000 years. Learning from the Native Americans, European settlers adopted squash as a staple in North America. They baked the squash and then cut and mixed it with animal fat, maple syrup or honey. 

 

Saving Seeds and Pollination 

The reason we have so many varieties  is because people learned to save seeds from squash with the unique qualities they preferred. Many different varieties developed all over the world. Squash are pollinated by insects, so in order to avoid unwanted hybrids, you must make sure that the plant was pollinated by another member of the same variety.  The first generation of fruit gets its characteristics from the mother plant, so you will indeed enjoy the delicata you had planted. But say your delicata squash was pollinated by a sugar pie pumpkin, the genes within the seeds will be altered and the following year, when you grow that seed, you will get a pumpcata, or is it a delikin?  You need at least ¼ mile between squash varieties to avoid Frankensquash (unless you like that sort of experiment, who knows? You may come up with a fabulous cross that you can name after yourself … Pink Jenana d’ Etamps perhaps?). 

Did you know the seeds are edible of all squash and pumpkins? The seeds are an excellent source of magnesium, zinc and potassium, as well as iron, protein and fiber.  So don’t compost them with the stringy guts… Here is what to do with them. 

Roasted Seeds

Ingredients

2 cups raw, rinsed and dried squash or pumpkin seeds

1 Tbs. olive oil

½ tsp sea salt

After cutting open the squash, scoop out the “guts”.  Pick the seeds out of the stringy fiber and toss them into a colander.  Rinse under cold water, then pat dry with a tea towel. Spread the seeds into a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and sea salt.  Mix it around until all the seeds are coated. Place into a preheated 350 degree oven and roast in the oven, stirring occasionally until they are lightly golden. Allow to cool before snacking.  Pumpkin seeds are best soon after roasting. 

Soup

Curried Coconut Squash Soup

Ingredients

1 medium kabocha squash ( about 3 lbs)

1 tbsp olive oil

2 cups chopped yellow onions

2 ribs celery, sliced

3 cloves chopped garlic

1 ¼ teaspoon cumin

1 ½ teaspoon curry powder

½ teaspoon ground coriander

1 can coconut milk

3 cups unsalted vegetable stock

2 teaspoons salt (more or less according to taste)

Hopefully the squash you just harvested the seeds from is a kabocha because curried, coconut squash soup is on the menu tonight and the kabocha, with its thick, solid, waxy, orange flesh  that is ideal for soup. Take the two sides of your squash, rub with olive oil and place on a baking tray inside a preheated 400 degree oven for 45 minutes (or until completely soft).

Saute the onions, celery & garlic in olive oil in a heavy bottom, 8 quart soup kettle until golden brown.  Sprinkle the spices into the kettle and saute until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Slowly add the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer.

Once the squash is soft, place the roasted flesh into the pot with the vegetables (I leave the skin on the squash for added vitamins & fiber, but you can remove it if you prefer). Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and partially cover for 8-10 minutes.

Turn the heat off, and add the coconut milk.  Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Add salt & pepper to taste.  Serve with chopped cilantro & a squeeze of lime juice.

 

Roasted 

Maple Cinnamon Roasted Neck Pumpkin*

 

Ingredients

8 cups cubed Neck Pumpkin (*butternut squash can be used as replacement if you can’t locate this graceful giant at your local farmers market. This squash is ideal because it is tender and juicy, yet holds its shape), about 3 lbs of peeled cubes

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp maple syrup

½ tsp sea salt

½ tsp cinnamon

2 pinches cayenne

 

Preheat oven to 425

 

Line a baking 2 baking trays with aluminum foil (or use a silpat silicone liner so when the sugars caramelize it won’t be too hard to clean) Spread out the cubes evenly on the trays.  

Drizzle the squash with 1 tbsp olive oil and maple syrup per sheet. 

Sprinkle each sheet evenly with ¼ tsp cinnamon, salt & pinch of cayenne

Toss the squash on the sheets with clean hands to coat evenly

Place the pans in the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes, switching racks halfway and cooking until all the squash is tender. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and turn on the broiler. Take turns placing each sheet under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to caramelize (be careful it does not burn!  The sugars cause it to brown very fast).  

This dish is delicious served warm or cold. As a side , or tossed onto a bed of raw spinach and dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice.  

No matter what you call it – squash or pumpkin, our valley is flush with these disparate cucurbits this month.  Whether you carve a jack-o-lantern or create a delicious meal, get out there and support our local farmers buy purchasing from your local farmstand.