Feature

A few words for garlic obsessives

Green Lifestyle

TV presenter turned biodynamic farmer Patrice Newell shares her love of garlic with us.

Softnecks

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Summertime means garlic time.

Customers often ask me for fresh garlic in the middle of winter. Sadly garlic refuses to cooperate.

Growing food – any food – is profoundly pleasurable. But few foods are as mesmerising to grow as garlic.

As I told in my first book, The Olive Grove, I grow that most traditional of fruit. After the ancient ritual of planting and pruning olive trees, it's five years until the first flowers, and at last the first few olives will appear.

I also grow beef; where a young cow is 18 months when first joined to a bull, and after a nine-month pregnancy – a calf! Then comes waiting and weaning, so producing beef is a slow process as well.

Garlic in contrast is full speed ahead. Planted annually at the end of Autumn and harvested at the end of Spring. The timing varies across different regions, so there’s a slight variation to that rule.

While there are hundreds of garlic varieties they can be grouped into two main edible types;
– the hardnecks (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon);
– and, the softnecks (Allium sativum var. sativum).

All garlic likes cold winters and good regular rain for growth – and then loves a warm dry spring to form their bulbs. Garlic hates humidity, and it shuns the tropics.

If you live in northern Australia, I'm afraid that it won’t be possible to grow the fabulous purple hardneck types that garlic aficionados can get so excited about.

These hardneck garlics are the foundation of the renewed interest in high quality fresh garlic. Unlike the softnecks that are grown mostly for the food processing sector; not that all softnecks are lesser garlics – there are plenty of good ones. However, the hardnecks are ones that offer complex flavour, less heat and a sweetness when baked. Plus, they have something I really appreciate in the kitchen; their skin comes off the clove with ease.

What exactly is it about this crop that makes it so magical?

• It tastes good. There is simply no comparison between the imported, chemically sprayed, stale garlic and Australian fresh garlic. They taste different. Old imported garlic tastes old. And the food you cook with it will taste different too. I won’t ruin a meal with that old stuff ever again. Better to go without.

• It’s a fresh food but lasts longer than most other fresh foods. On average if you buy fresh garlic in December you can store it for six months if you look after it correctly and purchase a fresh product to start with. No good buying garlic in March and wondering why it’s soft and sprouting in April. Of course it will sprout – that’s what garlic does when it’s ready to be planted.

• The garlic you eat is the same garlic you can plant. (Even cold room storage only delays the sprouting. Once you take it home and it acclimatises to the truth of the atmosphere it will do what comes naturally to it; sprout and try to grow.)

• It’s good for you. Garlic is a natural antibiotic. Research proving it’s ability to lower blood pressure, and to help combat some cancers, continue to be published. All research uses different types of garlics prepared in different ways. But let’s remember that once all garlic was fresh. ‘A little bit often’ is the rule around here.

Although growing garlic is my favourite business, I truly believe everyone should grow some themselves. It is the best way to get that fresh garlicness in winter. Although the leaves don’t quite taste the same as a clove, they do offer a garlic flavour – even if they look like little spring onions.

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Check out Patrice's garlic that she grows on her property at Gundy in NSW, called Elmswood Farm, here.