Touring on the continent this summer in our motor-home, whilst the UK wet seemed to follow wherever we travelled, I was nevertheless always drawn to the vegetable stalls in every market – a reminder of other, hotter summers in years long gone, and particularly herbs, and GARLIC. Subtlety of flavour, life-enhancing, considered by many to be a herbal wonder drug, with a reputation in folklore for preventing or treating everything from the common cold and ‘flu to the legendary plague! It is nevertheless a powerful natural antibiotic and antioxidant, and is claimed to assist in the management of blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
And wishing the winter away, bypassing Spring and thinking of summer, I remember that certain varieties of garlic can be planted in the early Autumn, and be ready for harvesting twice over. Plant ‘hardneck’ varieties such as Vayo or Sultop between now and January, and come late Spring – before the garlic bulbs begin to mature – green flowering shoots (better known as ‘scapes’) will appear, developing and twisting this way and that as a serpentine stalk topped by an infantile flower bud.
Normally, these green garlic scapes would be removed to encourage the garlic plant to develop into purple/violet-tinged harvestable bulbs. But a great delicacy would be missed: for you can cut the curling stalks and treat them rather as a garlic-flavoured spring onion: added raw to your first cut-and-come-again salad leaves; or stir-fried, sautéed in olive oil, heaped on a platter and dipped into a home-made mayonnaise, served with crisp bruschetta. Sublime.
Softneck types can also be planted in late Autumn but are harvested somewhat later than Vayo or Sultop. Look for the white-skinned Arno and Solent Wight particularly suited to our British climate. Home remedies: as a toddler prone sore throats, pneumonia on more than one occasion and other all-too-frequent chesty complaints – and before the days of readily available antibiotics, I recall my grandmother making a sweet-tasting garlic syrup with which I was spoon-fed each night. It must have worked, for here I am within a few days of my 75th birthday and contemplating next year’s garlic harvest!
Discover More: Whether or not you are hooked on garlic, you can learn so much from ‘Garlic – the mighty bulb’ written by Natasha Edwards and just published by Kyle Books. History, cultivation and cook-book rolled into one, add it to your Christmas wishlist. But don’t wait until then to order you garlic bulbs for stocks at Dobies are fast selling out. Split the bulbs into cloves, and press into a rich compost.
Forget foul-smelling garlic breath; as with any other herb, garlic should complement food, not overpower it – and ‘garlic-breath’ remedies are given in Natasha’s book; so, if you’ve never grown it before, try planting a few cloves in a pot, include it in your veg plot, raised beds or herb garden. Go continental this Autumn and forger winter as the young shoots emerge next Spring. Summer 2013 is on its way!