In the movie Goodfella’s the wiseguys in jail don’t live with the other prisoners. They have their own lock-up and it really doesn’t seem all that bad. Dinner in particular was a big deal: “Pauli did the prep work, he was doing a year for contempt and he had this wonderful system for doing the garlic. He used a razor and he sliced it so thin that it liquified in the pan with just a little oil.”
This scene often comes to mind when I’m chopping garlic for dinner — something I do nearly every night. Garlic cloves on their own smell good, but when you crush the cells, molecules from two different compartments combine and produce a new molecule, allicin. That’s garlic. I love it.
Unlike corn, garlic is a lot like its wild cousins and they didn’t evolve this smell because it tastes great with olive oil, basil and pine nuts. Allicin isn’t supposed to taste good: you’re supposed to stop eating and leave the plant alone. For most creatures that’s exactly what happens. Garlic and onions can cause hemolytic anemia in cats and dogs if eaten uncooked. They do have to eat a lot of it, but they won’t because they think it’s gross.
Garlic originated in central Asia, near Afghanistan. You don’t get lily-livered, yellow-bellied, cowardly plants like beans growing there. It take a tough plant to make it in central Asia. When brought to other places, pretty much nothing is interested in garlic.
Except me: I love to eat it, but most beasts don’t. There really aren’t many garden plants like that. I just finished my nightly prowl around the cucurbits, they’re pretty much lousy with squash bugs and striped cucumber beetles. I’ve had very few pest problems with garlic. In this case, when I say “very few,” I mean “no.”
Garlic, which by the way comes from the Old English garleac or “spear leek,” does ask for fertile soil and does not enjoy competition from weeds. For this reason I give it a nice thick mulch when I plant it in the fall around white-people-went-and-ruined-two-continents” day. In the fall it grows roots and maybe a hint of a leaf. Then in the spring, before the weather seems reasonable it pretty much jumps out of the ground.
By July garlic plants have formed a nice head and are ready for harvest. I usually wait until most of the leaves have started to turn brown. Harvesting early means the bulbs might turn out small, but if you wait too long the skin could tear, then it won’t keep. I harvested mine right around the beginning of July this year and got a bumper crop.
For some reason, this year I ordered all “reds”: german red, chesnok red, leningrad, and killarney red. Technically I suppose “Leningrad” isn’t called “red,” but, well, “Lenin.” The German red gave the greatest yield and the Leningrad was kind of a poor performer. Lazy communist.
I put them in my garage, so for a few weeks my garage will smell more like garlic and less like chickens. Garlic chicken may smell pretty good in some contexts, but not this one. It all depends on the vitality of the chicken.