Thursday, August 9, 2012
The garlic we included in our CSA boxes this week isn’t the type that catches the eye at a farmers market. The heads are small and the cloves are numerous and tiny. In fact, if the garlic disappointed anyone who received it, I would fully understand.
Most of the garlic grown for market in BC falls into the category of “hardneck”. These varieties put out a tall, hard flower stalk in the centre of the plant – remember the garlic scapes earlier? The heads tend to be large and the cloves are fewer in number, but large and easy to peel. They are heavier, fetch a higher price per head and sell quickly.
The variety we sent out this week is a softneck variety. These plants don’t put out a flower stalk. The cloves are numerous, but small. The yield per plant is lower. And so, you might wonder, why grow this type of garlic?
The reason softneck garlic is very useful is that it stores well. Hardneck varieties generally don’t store past Christmas time; fully cured softneck varieties can store through to the following spring without going soft or starting to sprout.
And thus the origin of the garlic sent out this week: the original garlic I planted six years ago came from our Ukrainian neighbours in the neighbourhood where I grew up in Saskatoon. This garlic was grown out over a number of generations and was valued for lasting the long, cold winters. Its soft necks make it easy to braid, and thus easy to store, doubling as an ornament in the kitchen prior to use.
Growing this garlic is one of the only physical links I have to my family’s farming heritage. When my parents left their farms, no one thought of preserving the seed varieties their parents had grown out in gardens. Some of those seeds came from Ukraine in previous generations, sewn into the hems of clothing to survive the voyage. In one generation those treasures were lost – except for the garlic.
As a side note, my gradnmother’s phone had to be replaced regularly because the plastic receiver would absorb the scent of garlic from her breath. The cloves might be small, but they pack a punch (and she did eat it raw)!