3Nov2010

Introducing Massif Garlic

Planting garlic is one of my most favorite farm projects – I love the meditative process of separating the cloves, and I particularly like nestling each one into newly tilled soil.  It is a reassuring feeling that I’ve tucked each and every single clove in for the winter.  “Popping” cloves also offers me an opportunity to reflect on the beauty of each one individually – its ruddy color, smooth papery skin, and budding nubs of rootlets ready to snuggle into the soil for 6 months before dividing and creating not only a whole head of garlic, but throwing up their edible flowering scapes for us to enjoy in Spring… I know.  I can wax poetic about these lovely alliums, but I had an even more profound experience than my normal oohs and ahs at this one’s color or that one’s size while separating the cloves this year.  I realized that garlic happens because generations of hands have spent time separating cloves and selecting for the nice ones. This is one of the most hands-on crops that there is; you must carefully cure the heads for a couple of months in well-ventilated, not too hot or moist conditions, then you must select for whatever trait you are going for in your garlic; for us it is large, easy to peel and easy to chop cloves.  Then you must store your selected heads for a couple more months until you are ready to plant.  THEN, when your ground is prepared, and the beds are ready, you can spend a few hours popping the cloves from their heads.  You must wait to do this until the day of planting, because if you separate the cloves too early they will dry up and loose all their energy that gets them through the winter.  It was while we were sitting there popping cloves that I was watching Spencer’s hands and realized that generations have been doing this very action to keep this particular garlic alive!  At that moment I felt a huge surge of appreciation for those before me that carefully selected cloves, planted them, cared for them, and re-planted them over the years so that we could stumble upon it and continue the process on our own farm.  We don’t know the name of our beautiful hardneck garlic – it isn’t a type of elephant garlic, which is a softneck, but it might as well be.  We bought it 8 years ago from a fellow farmer that got it from someone else that also didn’t know the name.  We have decided that such a beautiful and noble garlic needs a name, and so today we have christened it: Massif.  Each beautiful white head of garlic evokes the impressive snow-ensconced mountain ranges of the Alps or Himalayas.  It is super hardy, and indeed massive with each clove representing 3 normal-sized ones.  Also, fittingly, massif is a geological term referring to a large mountain mass or compact group of connected mountains forming an independent portion of a range – sounds pretty much like a head of garlic to me.  So, there you have it – welcome to Massif, our beloved hardneck garlic!  I have known you for 8 years, and will appreciate knowing you now by name!

Another season-specific realization I had today was that our soil, at this time of year, when newly tilled, has the exact texture and temperature of perfect piecrust dough; granular, moist, and cool.  Simply lovely.  And so, just like that, I am inspired to celebrate my garlic in a pasta dish tonight with the last of my broccoli rabe, and also to celebrate my soil by baking a pie for dessert – probably quince.  Happy fall!

4 Responses

  1. Phil says:

    What a beautiful blogpost!

  2. Mara says:

    Thanks everyone, for your kind words! More to come!

  3. Makes me think differently about the bulb of garlic I buy from the grocery store. When it comes to both onions and garlic – my attitude is that a little too much – is almost enough.

    Beautiful pictures. And I hope you’re enjoying that fur coat from the antique shop. *smile*

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