A pungent necessity in the kitchen
April 19, 2022
As a child, I was only ever aware of two spices being used on food: salt and pepper. In the center of our table sat a five container antique cruet set. Despite there being cut glass receptacles for oil, vinegar, and sugar, the only ones which ever contained anything were the salt and pepper shakers.
Now, as a child, it never occurred to me that there were other spices. Undoubtedly my mother used a few others, but I was unaware that food could be a delightful adventure since she cooked mostly bland foods.
When I left home I took up an interest in cooking. It was then I discovered what I consider the essential food additive, one which has spawned cookbooks centered on it and an entire town committed to it. We are talking garlic.
April 19 is National Garlic Day, celebrated on this date since the late 19th century.
Technically, garlic is not a herb or a spice, but an allium, a member of the onion family. Like onions, it is known for its pungent aroma and taste.
Yes, the Infallible Wikipedia has a page and provides this information:
“Garlic (Allium sativum) is a species of bulbous flowering plant in the genus Allium. Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek, chive, Welsh onion and Chinese onion. It is native to Central Asia and northeastern Iran and has long been used as a seasoning worldwide, with a history of several thousand years of human consumption and use. It was known to ancient Egyptians and has been used as both a food flavoring and a traditional medicine. China produces 76% of the world’s supply of garlic.”
What many people do not realize about garlic, however, is that there are many species; hundreds in fact. While the Infallible Wikipedia does provide a good overview, I find that the cookbook Garlic Garlic Garlic, by Linda and Fred Griffith – in addition to a couple hundred recipes which feature it – offers fascinating historical and anecdotal information on garlic.
For example, there are a couple segments about the legend of how garlic repels vampires. But it’s this gem which would seem to offer a much more practical application:
Personally, anything which can ward off mosquitoes and other pests makes me a fan.
When, in the 1990’s I learned about Gilroy, California – they proclaim themselves Garlic Capital of the World – I added it to my ‘bucket’ list. The last week of July every year they hold the Gilroy Garlic Festival, having done so since 1979. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:
“An annual three-day event, the Gilroy Garlic Festival is one of the country’s best known food festivals, drawing visitors from across the nation. Located about 30 miles southeast of San Jose, Gilroy is home to about 60,000 people, and the city is a major producer of garlic. The festival is Gilroy’s top fund raiser, staffed with volunteers to raise money for nonprofit groups including clubs and schools.
The Garlic Festival has been held every year since 1979, except 2020 when it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rudolph J. Malone, then President of Gavilan College in Gilroy, was inspired by a small town in France which hosted an annual garlic festival and claimed to be the ‘Garlic Capital of the World.’ Malone started the festival, which now draws more than hundreds of thousands of paying visitors a year.”
To be fair, the United States ranks a distant seventh in garlic production by country and produces 237,000 tons. The top honors belong to China which dwarfs all others with over 23 MILLION tons of garlic grown annually. Even so, Gilroy is all about garlic, all the time.
Sadly, the hubby and I have not yet attended the garlic festival. But we did manage to visit Gilroy in the fall of 2015.
One of the first things you notice as you come across the Diablo Range from the east is the aroma. There is nothing shy about Gilroy! You pass field after field, many – no doubt – planted with the pungent crop.
But it is the town of Gilroy itself which charms. It sports a very late 19th century sort of feel with its buildings and the various shops which line the main drag. It is an inviting place to park your car and peruse the various retail establishments.
My goal that day, September 2, 2015, was to eat garlic infused food. We ended up at the Garlic City Café which stayed open long enough for us to order and enjoy lunch. Oh my. It was everything I hoped it would be. The chicken dish was topped with mushrooms… and garlic. The French fried potatoes were seasoned with salt… and garlic. It was a gastronomical delight.
I look forward to a return trip to Gilroy and the opportunity to spend a few days so as to try all sorts of other garlickly delights. Thank goodness the hubby does not mind the smell of garlic!
As always, the links: