Skip to comments.In Praise of Good Garlic; Book Bemoans Cheap Import From China
Posted on 03/17/2012 10:33:40 PM PDT by nickcarraway
Author explores the global goodness of natures beloved clove
The outrageous success of Twilight in recent years has resulted in authors pitching every kind of vampire-riffing book they can think of, from teen romance to paranormal thrillers. Liz Primeau went another way: She wrote a book about garlic.
The bulb went off, so to speak, for Primeau in 2009 but not because of garlics folkloric ability to repel vampires.
China dumped on us, flooding the market with cheap low-quality garlic and undercutting local agriculture, the author recalls. When I read that, that was sort of the finishing touch. Ive been eating garlic for years and it just suddenly appeared to me that there was a book to be written. And that there was so much more to it than just a cookbook.
Instead, Primeaus well-researched ode joins a growing category of single-ingredient books that explore humble staples not as exhaustive as Mark Kurlanskys Salt or Elizabeth Abbotts Sugar, but more like Potato, Andrew Smiths global history of the spud, or Tom Muellers Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil. If these explorations sometimes read like spy thrillers, thats because theres a lot of lore to cover, especially for garlic.
I also realized that garlic was undergoing this renaissance, Primeau, the founding editor of Canadian Gardening, continues, and the Chinese garlic thing was a turning point because thats all we can get.
She set about researching and tracing what garlic has meant to different cultures, and also searching out and tasting the many different varieties. For example, a delectable rare rose-coloured version in Ojai, Calif., inspired Primeau to traipse to a full-blown garlic festival in Lautrec, France, where she consumed the pungent bulb in enviable quantities.
One of the things that struck me, she says, is that all these different civilizations living in different parts of the world with no Internet, no cellphone to connect, all used garlic for the same things for diarrhea, to treat funguses, as an antibiotic.
A perfect illustration of this would be the wonderful scene in John Sayles 1987 film Matewan, in which striking coal miners in a West Virginia town have set up a tent city, and the locals uneasily share makeshift living quarters with the Italian scab workers. In a simple moment, one local wife hands her Italian counterpart a gnarled stalk that grows wild in the forest of Appalachia, a culinary peace offering to help flavour her evening meal. The Italian doesnt speak a word of English but accepts the precious cargo, inhales it and murmurs in wonder, E aglio! its garlic.
It is a pillar of so many cultures, except for Northern Europe and particularly British culture, says Primeau, who herself has that ancestry and in one memorable moment in the book recalls the first date on which she smelled, then tasted, garlic for the first time, at an Italian restaurant. For so many cultures garlic is a staple, she says, but many of us have had that same experience my own grandmother in Manchester wouldnt touch the stuff even with the tip of a fork.
Of course the edible is political, and while Garlic isnt exactly a call to arms, you cant help but feel a little riled up after reading it.
That shocked me, that we were buying so much of our vegetables from China, Primeau admits. Like everyone else I have just become more aware its part of the general consciousness now.
Preimeau tried unsuccessfully to get hold of Galen Weston at Loblaws to ask about why they dont stock local garlic, she says, because they are always doing commercials about local sourcing, but I could never find anything but Chinese garlic in their stores.
They should be buying more local.
This recent general interest in the food chain is fuelled in part by the new urban agriculture movement, the people who sort of glamorize vegetables, says the seasoned ornamental gardener.
But theres good fallout from that because I think they make growers and even I think grocery chains more aware of the need to stock local garlic, local tomatoes. Not even at my local greengrocers will they sell wonderful local tomatoes that are picked ripe.
Should the book inspire you to be more choosy in the produce department, Primeau offers a helpful guide to identifying different varieties of garlic (Argentinian and Mexican are better than Chinese, for example) and instructions for cultivating it in your own backyard, which is easy in most parts of Canada.
To grow well, garlic needs a winter cold period, like a tulip does, Primeau explains, adding that she stores the harvested bulbs in the coldest place in her house: the bedroom clothes closet.
While the new tome isnt a cookbook, the author did sprinkle a few recipes among the chapters on garlics historical information and medicinal applications.
Because thats what we do with garlic we eat it, she says with a laugh.
Garlic by Liz Primeau is available March 16 from Greystone Books ($19.95).
Primeau learned there that, just as in the manufacturing sector, the Chinese economic dragon nearly wiped out the North American garlic industry by dumping cheap garlic on the market.
The number of hectares planted in California dropped from 16,000 to 10,000 in the early 2000s. Canadian garlic farming, which was just beginning, was similarly hard hit.
You can tell garlic is Chinese, because the root plate is removed.
Been there and Gilroy is still the garlic capital of the world. Even if we only have 40 acres of garlic fields left.
When I shop for cooking, garlic bulbs....the choices are China...Mexico.....China...Mexico.....China...Mexico.....I hate that. Even Whole Foods garlic is mostly Chinese import.
If you live in a garlic growing region....I am jealous of you! We used to be able to buy a hardneck variety at a farmer’s market supplied by Mennonites. Alas, I don’t live near that town any longer and with the price of gasoline...I’m out of luck.
Anyone have a good online grower, that they have used successfully? I see there are tons of them; getting a recommendation would help a lot of *experimentation*. Thanks!
Any chance of getting a gardening group ping to the question posed in #6? Surely that group should be able to provide some insight.
Never tried one, have smelled them when tromping through the NC mountains.
I was watching a cooking show a few days ago and they were discussing cooking with ramps. Wow, they have gone Broadway.
I’m gonna have to get all my garlic at the Union Square market from now on. I had no idea that our garlic was mostly Chinese. The Chinese produce nothing but crap. Sorry to say it but it’s true. They have no pride in what they sell.
You just can't save people from a deathwish.
There was a story this past week about some hazard found in Chinese garlic, resulting in a large quantity being destroyed.
We raise our own. It’s easy to do.
Can you tell me when the proper time is to plant garlic - spring or fall? (I plant but mostly tomatoes, eggplant and herbs).
In NY State, plant right now for fall harvest.
In the south, plant in the fall for harvest in the spring.
Plant pointy side up, four-five inches apart.
Naw, honey, them's ramps.
Y'all be careful, they'll knock your socks off.
Thanks for the garlic advice!!
bravo, and I was also going to mention, gilroy is still the place to go (or order online) for true garlic we remember cooking with b4 the chinoise takeover.
If you Google “garlic,” I’m sure you’ll find 100s of tips on where to buy stock and how to grow your own (garlic, that is.)
Farmers’ markets are a good place to find local connections. Their product is fresher and less likely to have issues. You can grow a year’s supply in a very small plot.
I live next door to a large gourmet market that probably sells garlic bulbs. I just need a place to plant them - after I find out the kind of soil they like and the amount of sun. Until they come up, I’ll try and purchase from local markets in NYC.
Thanks for your tips!
Most of the Ozarks region of Missouri is an uplifted ocean bottom, with layers of limestone and mudstones with very little soil. Most of our area escaped glaciation, so the only soil to be had is scooped up from river bottoms and trucked in. This is what we’re using in raised bed gardens.
I have a good produce store near me which stocks California garlic. I will NOT buy food from China.
I don’t care for “elephant garlic”. I can’t put my finger on why exactly but I have two friends who are chefs and they do what they can to avoid their garlic.
Same with Mexican avocados. They are too watery.