Tuesday, 12 January 2010
It occurred to me, as I was peeling a couple of cloves of garlic for a dish, that when I call for garlic in my recipes I assume it's obvious I mean Ontario-grown garlic, seeing as that's what it's all about around here. It's not that you couldn't substitute other garlics - if you really must - but there are some things you should realize about Ontario-grown garlic first.
The most common kind of garlic grown in Ontario is called "Music", after its developer, Al Music, a farmer who switched from tobacco farming to growing garlic in the early 1980's and developed the strain from garlic he acquired in Italy. (I've occasionally seen it refered to as "Musica".) It's proven to be very adapted to southern Ontario growing conditions, and is a fine, flavourful garlic of medium pungency with large cloves, and which stores well.
When I say large cloves, I mean large cloves. The single clove in the photo above is about the size of an Italian plum. That's larger than average, but even an average clove is about 3 to 5 times the size of a clove of the puny Chinese-grown softneck garlic that's so ubiquitous in grocery stores. In short, when I call for "1 or 2 cloves of garlic" I am not being skimpy with the garlic; that's probably 4 to 6 cloves of Chinese garlic, at least. Although I'd be inclined to use that one huge clove and call it two, for recipe purposes.
Music is a hardneck garlic. Garlic is divided into three general types; hardneck, weakly hardneck (or intermediate) and softneck. Softneck garlic does not generally send up a flower stalk as it grows, and so consists of a head of cloves in loose layers, without the hard central stem that gives hardneck garlic its name.
Within the class of hardneck garlics, there are 3 further subdivisions: porcelain, purple stripe and rocambole. Music is a porcelain garlic, with a fine white (sometimes blushed mauve) and rather glossy skin. It generally has between 4 and 7 cloves per head, with 5 or 6 being typical in my experience. In stressful growing seasons it is likely to produce fewer but larger cloves.
Like all garlic, it should be kept at cool room temperature, dry (airy) and dark for longest storage, but not chilled. Garlic, like daffodils, does much of its root development in cool to downright cold autumn and early winter weather. If you keep it in the refrigerator, it is likely to think that this is what is happening and that it's time to grow. These rather specific requirements are why garlic storage jars are popular for keeping garlic. However, if you grow your own or stock up in the fall such jars are likely to be too small. Try a double paper bag with a few small holes poked in it for most of your garlic, and keep your garlic jar for just a few heads at hand on the kitchen counter.
If you want to grow your own garlic, it is best planted in the late summer to early fall. You could do much worse than reading up on the process here: Choosing, Growing, Using and Selling Garlic for Small Scale Growers in Ontario, from Seeds of Diversity Canada.