Everything garlic, with guest blogger Camille Storch

10/25/2011 at 6:36 pm Leave a comment

In this post, we’re excited to feature a guest writer. Camille Storch is an off-the-grid mom of two living and working in rural Oregon.  She writes about ecology, agriculture, and the reality of her modest but joyful lifestyle on her blog, Wayward Spark.

It's garlic time. Photos copyright Camille Storch.

Garlic is amazing. I’m so happy that it exists on this earth. Yeah, there’s the whole bad breath thing, but really, I could care less.

Good garlic kept in a dry storage location will last for months or even over a year. It doesn’t really NEED any specific preservation, but I’m going to offer up a couple alternatives to keeping a heads on the kitchen counter: garlic braids and homemade garlic powder.

My parents grow a lot of garlic. The photo above shows a small fraction of this year’s harvest. They’ve been planting and saving seed from their own stock for over 30 years, and at this point, they don’t even know the variety name of what they started with. What I DO know is that it is a soft-neck garlic with great flavor, and it’s relatively easy to peel. When they start to dig next summer’s crop, I will still be using year-old heads that may have a one or two funky cloves or a little bit of green where it’s starting to sprout, but otherwise, it will still be in great shape.

My mom sells garlic and garlic braids down at the Corvallis Saturday Farmers’ Market. After some cajoling, she reluctantly agreed to let me take a few photos of her braiding method (though I had to swear that I wouldn’t show her face on the blog).

For braiding, you’re going to need some cleaned, dried, soft-neck garlic with the stems attached. You want the stems to be dry, so they don’t shrink later and loosen up the braid, BUT you need them to be pliable enough to work with. After trialing various techniques, my mom has come to the conclusion that you get the best braids by letting the stems dry completely and then soaking them (not the heads) in water for 15 minutes or so before braiding.

Start your braid with three heads.

Use a french-braiding method to add one new head with every crossing of the stems.

Pull the stems as tightly as possible while working.

When you get up to 13 heads or so, the stems from the first heads will start to fray and peter out. If you really want to add more, you can keep on braiding them in, though it may get a little messy, or (like my mom), you can move on to just braiding the stems.

Tie a piece of twine around the first three heads, and tie another twine around the stem end. Trim off any unkempt excess.

Now the braid ready to hang in your kitchen or dining area. I’ve read lots of advice that says not to keep garlic where it’s warm, but I always hang braids in my house, and in the winter, our house is totally hot because of the wood stove. I will find the occasional rotten clove after a couple months, but for the most part, it does fine. That may be attributed to the great storage capacity of my parents’ garlic, so I can’t make any guarantees about anyone else’s garlic.

Moving on to garlic powder…

Peel and slice up a bunch of cloves and put them in a food dehydrator.

Dry ‘em until they’re totally dehydrated and hard (about two days).

This was one situation where I wished I had a coffee grinder dedicated to pulverizing spices, but I don’t, so I threw the dried slices into a food processor. I am absolutely not kidding when I tell you that after about 10 seconds of grinding, I shut it off and went to get my noise-protection earmuffs. It was SO loud, and it took several minutes, during which time, garlic powder dust started to billow out of the intake hole. The coolest part, though, were the little garlic-powder stalagmites that formed on the head of the blade.

As you can see, I didn’t grind mine until it was perfectly powdery, but it was good enough.

After finishing this process, there was much debate and discussion among my family and neighbors about why or where you would choose garlic powder over real garlic. The best uses we could come up with were on popcorn (which is delicious) or for traveling/backpacking. If you have thoughts or recipes using garlic powder, please share in the comments, because I love the stuff and would like to be using it more broadly.

Inspired? It’s the right time to plant garlic, and Extension has pointers on which type of garlic to plant and how to make it grow.

If you’ve already got garlic, check out this PDF for info on how to store or pickle it. And here’s a PDF with the rundown on how to safely preserve garlic (and herbs) in oil. ~Rachel

Entry filed under: Cooking and eating, Food Preservation & Safety, Gardening. Tags: , , , , , , .

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