Food

If grow­ing your own gar­lic, try hard­neck,

The Progress-Index Weekend - - LIFESTYLES - By Ari LeVaux More Con­tent Now

If you’ve ever tried to peel 15 tiny sliv­ers of gar­lic just to get enough for a proper meal, and had the wispy wrap­pers stuck to your stinky gar­lic-juice fin­gers, then you know the frus­tra­tion of soft­neck gar­lic.

But do you know the plea­sure of a clove that peels so eas­ily that the whole thing comes off in one piece? A sin­gle clove that peels in five sec­onds and has to be cut in half to fit in most gar­lic presses?

That, friends, is hard­neck gar­lic.

Hard­neck cloves ra­di­ate around a cen­tral stalk like slices of pie, while soft­neck bulbs are lumpier, with a cen­tral stalk that is shriv­eled like a belly but­ton. All you have to do is press your thumb into the mid­dle of a bulb and you will know what you are deal­ing with.

One typ­i­cally has to pay more for hard­neck, but it’s worth ev­ery penny. The first time I saw Ro­ma­nian Red, in a bas­ket in the back of a pickup truck in the Pa­cific North­west, I bought 30 pounds for $150. That was 15 years ago and one of the best in­vest­ments I’ve ever made. To this day, Ro­ma­nian Red is the kind of gar­lic you want to work with in the kitchen, ergo the kind you want to plant.

The man who sold me that life-chang­ing gar­lic stash, David Ron­niger, passed away last sum­mer. Un­til our paths first crossed at the Tonas­ket Barter Faire, I had been grow­ing a not-bad Span­ish Rosa. But since meet­ing the Ro­ma­nian Red I have not looked back. All of my gar­lic-grow­ing friends have switched as well, grow­ing out seed that I’d gifted them.

Once, to win a soft­neck ver­sus hard­neck de­bate with my farmer friend Patty Fialkowitz, I gave her a bag of Ro­ma­nian Red. Years went by. I moved away. I moved back to find Patty’s husband Bob is now grow­ing 600 pounds of Ro­ma­nian Red, all from the seed I gave her to make my point. Bob was even sell­ing Ro­ma­nian Red to Ron­niger, who ended up sell­ing more Ro­ma­nian Red than he could grow. Now that David is gone, Bob has ex­tra, if any­body wants any. (Fialky­farm@gmail.com)

On­line, the go­ing rate for Ro­ma­nian Red seed is about $25 a pound, but I’m pretty sure the stuff avail­able at your lo­cal farm­ers mar­ket, in­clud­ing Bob’s, runs quite a bit less, and you can plant it just the same. There is noth­ing special about so-called “seed gar­lic.” Or Ro­ma­nian Red, for that mat­ter. There are many good va­ri­eties out there, and the most im­por­tant thing, other than it be a hard­neck, is that it grows well in your area. If you pick up some lo­cally grown gar­lic at your farm­ers mar­ket and treat it right, you can as­sume it will re­sem­ble what you bought.

Break the bulbs into cloves and plant them, scab side down, with the tip an inch be­low the sur­face, about 6 to 10 inches apart. Mulch it through the win­ter if you live in a cold cli­mate, and don’t ever let it dry out un­til har­vest time. Ari LeVaux writes Flash in the Pan, a syn­di­cated weekly food col­umn that’s ap­peared in more than 50 news­pa­pers in 25 states. Ari can be reached at flash@ flashinthepan.net. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @ar­il­e­vaux

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