This is my Mother, Victoria Vance, standing with the Garlic King in Gilroy, California. We drove there from San José to go to the world’s largest garlic festival. Driving was a sensory overload as the aroma from a large tomato factory mixed with the aroma of garlic from Gilroy.
Garlic, allium sativa, is one of the oldest foods to be recorded in history and is mentioned in the Bible and in ancient Egyptian writings.In the Old World, Egyptian and Indian cultures referred to garlic 5000 years ago and there is clear historical evidence for its use by the Babylonians 4500 years ago and by the Chinese 2000 years ago. Some writings suggest that garlic was grown in China as far back as 4000 years ago. It’s generally accepted that the English word ‘garlic’ is derived from the old Scandinavian gar for spear and leac meaning herbs. It is descriptive of garlic’s spearlike leaves. In French, garlic is ail, from the Latin allium. The German is knoblauch; Italian, agio; Russian, chesnok; Japanese, non-niku, Arabic, tim; Indian, lashuna. There is even a Tibetan myth of garlic’s invention. The gods in heaven had a fight and the evil god was killed by the good gods. His body fell to the earth in thousands of pieces, and from each sprung garlic.There is a festival in Egypt as ancient as the pharaohs called Sniffing of the Breezes to celibrate spring. Dressed in their new clothes, everyone goes to the banks of the Nile. They set off fireworks, eat garlic and wear garlic. They then smash garlic over their door frames and put it in their beds and all over their houses. It cleanses. There are tales of garlic being hung in the windows of new babies to protect against outside evil influences. And then there is the ritual of keeping a bride and groom separate before their wedding. Garlic is hung in the bride’s room to ensure that nothing malicious interrupts the ceremony.
Allium sativa has been a healing plant since ancient times and it’s benefits are still realized today. Garlic indeed has health benefits. Thousands of years ago there was no separation between cuisine and medicine. We’ve lost our way and and divide our medicine from our food. To the ancients, natural substances growing indigenously in the soil were both food and medicine. Garlic was always part of this combination from the beginning. It has always been the food and medicine of the common people, everywhere in the world. Of all the plants, garlic is the one that inspires most passion for and against its use, both as a medicine and a food. In every century there have been aliophobes (garlic haters) and in every century and culture garlic has been adored by the masses and also shunned by the clergy and aristocracy. In certain class-conscious societies (not mentioning any names of course) garlic taboos have been slow to come down even in the 21st century. Have you ever met anyone that tells you they don’t like garlic? I have many times. And each time I silently chuckle because these same people eat hotdogs, sausages or wurst and all kinds of prepared meats and prepared sauces. Little do they know that garlic is the most common flavouring in those food products. If you read the label it will have “spices” and the primary one is most often garlic.
Garlic pairs well with many things other than the savoury ways we use it. I can attest that it’s not so bad in garlic wine (having sampling a few brands at Gilroy), it goes great with sugar and tastes terrific in garlic ice cream. Years ago I produced a line of garlic products and had the opportunity to work with a chocolatier who made garlic jelly chocolates. You’re probably thinking this is all too weird, but if you step out of the box with the way spices are used then you’ll surprise yourself with the number of different flavour combinations there are.
China is the world’s leading exporter of garlic, producing 66% of garlic for world consumption. Chinese garlic is always sold as “dried” garlic with the thin papery coverings. I prefer using local fresh garlic that’s juicy with a wonderful spicy bite. [I don’t know for sure but I believe it is also known as softneck.] Garlic is also sold in powdered form or dried (granules or slices). Elephant garlic looks like a very large garlic bulb but is a member of the leek family. It has a mild flavour and does not possess the sulphur-healing properties of allium saliva. Smoked garlic is also popular and expensive. Roasting garlic is easier on your pocketbook. Garlic is eaten cooked or raw. I frequently throw a clove or two into my juicer when making my juice – it adds a wonderful sweetness. The leafy green shoots called garlic scapes also have many uses in pesto and soups and more.
As the weather turns into autumn, I also turn to comforting soups. This is a wonderful recipe for chickpea minestrone. Your guests will ooh and ahh over how delicious it is.
Chickpea, Cherry Tomato + Green Bean Minestrone (adapted from Easy Vegan)
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
14 oz/400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
4 oz/115 g green beans, sliced on the angle in uniform lengths
12 cherry tomatoes
handful of roughly chopped flat leaf parsely
6 cups/1.5L veggie stock
3-4 oz/100g spaghetti or linguine, broken into short lengths
2 large handfuls of arugula/rocket/rucola or spinach
½ cup/50g vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast (optional)
good quality salt, pepper from the mill
crusty bread, to serve
makes 4 servings
Bring the onion, garlic and stock to a rolling boil for 3-4 minutes. Then add chickpeas, green beans, tomatoes and pasta. Set your timer to cook the pasta according to the pasta manufacturer’s suggested cooking time (and NO longer) then test for doneness. The beans will stay nice and green if you cook it like that. If you cook it too long the noodles will become soggy, the beans will be gray green and the soup will look messy. It will still taste great though!!
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add chopped parsely and stir well. Add cheese/nutritional yeast to taste (optional). Ladle hot soup into bowls and garnish with rocket/ar
ugula/rucola or spinach. Stir a little to wilt into the soup for a nice presentation and remember to stir in some love. Serve immediately with some crusty bread.
The veggies are merely a suggestion. You could use zucchini/courgette and carrots. Remember different densities of veggies have different cooking times. A pinch of Spanish pimentón (smoked paprika) will add a different flavour. I poke all of the cherry tomatoes with a fork so they don’t burst with hot soup when trying to eat them. Although the recipe calls for the parmesan/nutritional yeast, I omitted it.
If you’re ever in the San Francisco area and able to go the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival it’s highly recommended. The weather is always great, the people are so friendly, the food is amazing and there is always plenty of garlic!