Fresh garlic is harvested in June
Each season we have the opportunity to experience the fresh and vibrant flavors of locally grown items that we only have available in dried, frozen or canned form or that has travelled across countries and continents in the off-season. Now is the time of year to discover the true taste of garlic that is fresh. Planted in gardens and fields last October, the garlic harvest is now underway. If you have never tasted the sweet and spicy undertones of garlic before it is cured into bulbs with papery husks, please treat yourself to this local delicacy by visiting a farmers market and adding fresh garlic to your menu. Curing (or drying) garlic bulbs concentrates its flavor, so fresh garlic will have a milder taste. Garlic is available in a number of varieties and like wine and tomatoes, each variety will have a different flavor profile. Make sure you ask about the varieties available and explore the different levels of heat and sweet. Find your favorite and you just may want to add garlic to your own fall garden planting list.
Unlike the garlic found in the grocery store, fresh garlic at the farmers market or from your garden will have the stalk still attached and the entire garlic plant can be used. Early in the season, the garlic scape or flower stalk is used to make a wonderful garlic pesto. The remaining green stalk attached to the bulb can be sliced and added to soups or broths for a subtle garlic flavor. The tender cloves are enclosed by a waxy membrane rather than the paper skin we are accustomed to seeing in cured garlic, and are moist and tender. These membranes can be used to create a mayonnaise-like spread to add to salad dressings, stir-fry vegetables. To make, bring a small pan of water to a simmer, throw in the membranes and drain them as soon as the water returns to a simmer. Allow to cool, then use a food processor to chop the membranes as you add olive oil and salt to create a creamy garlic spread.
If you are harvesting your own garlic or want to preserve your fresh farmers market purchase, wash the bulb if necessary and allow it to dry in a dark, low-moisture area. Do not refrigerate garlic because it adds moisture and can cause the bulb to mold. Storing your garlic bulbs in a well-ventilated area, and not in plastic bags or sealed containers, will allow the garlic to breathe and extend its shelf-life.
Your garlic harvest can also be preserved several ways for use throughout the year. Peeled garlic can be preserved in vinegar or white wine. Fill a glass jar with peeled garlic gloves and fill with vinegar or wine, seal the jar and place in the refrigerator for up to four months. For extra flavor, add a tablespoon of salt per cup of liquid and dried herbs such as oregano, rosemary or bay leaves.
Local garlic can also be dried for garlic power or granulated garlic. Peel and slice the fresh garlic and use a food dehydrator to dry the garlic pieces until they are crisp and brittle. If you do not have a food dehydrator, you can use your oven set at 130 degrees for several hours. Use a food processor to grind the garlic to a course or fine powder and store in a closed container away from heat and moisture to maintain the best flavor. Use your dried garlic powder to make your own garlic salt, which adds a subtle garlic flavor to your meals. Simply blend four parts of sea salt to one part of garlic powder in a food processor for two minutes. Store garlic salt as you would garlic powder.
Mary Roberts and Ray Tarlton are owners and managers of Windcrest Farm, a USDA Certified Organic farm and greenhouse in Monroe, NC . Visit www.WindcrestOrganics.com for more information about plants, produce and classes. Facebook: Windcrest Farm Organics
CAPTION: Windcrest Farm fresh, local garlic is harvested in June.