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Getting the Most Out of Your Garlic Harvest

Q. I'm finished digging up this season's garlic harvest and have been reading your articles about making garlic powder from some of the cloves. I've been growing garlic for about ten years now in the northeastern US; and as you suggest, I use any split or damaged bulbs right away to make garlic powder. But I do one thing different than you. I have found that it holds its flavor better if I slice the garlic, dehydrate it, store the dried slices in a jar until I need more seasoning and then run some of the dried slices through my (yes, dedicated) coffee mill to powder it up. It takes up a little more space in the pantry, but the flavor is so much better!"

---Charlie in "upstate New York; USDA Hardiness Zone 5"

A. An improvement on a McGrath technique?! Could it be?!

It could. It was, It has been. And it am. What it be. In other words, I would be awarding Charlie a medal for meritorious service in the service of meritoriously servicing garlic, but I stumbled across this idea years ago on my own, inspired by coffee beans.

I love strong coffee, and always buy whole beans so I can grind them up fresh in the morning. One day it occurred to me that I was doing just the opposite with my garlic—grinding up all my extra cloves at one time and using the resulting powder over the following year—when grinding my dried 'garlic beans' fresh would taste much better. And provide the ultimate 'show off' routine at a dinner party: "Oh, and would you like some fresh ground garlic with that?"

(Only problem is that I'd have to get me one of them four-foot high pepper grinders to really pull it off.)

At any rate, 'tis the season to work your garlic! So, let's review harvesting and storage!

• You get fresh planting garlic from a catalog, farmer's market, friend, or your own garden, break apart the bulbs and plant the biggest individual cloves in the 'fall'. …Which is actually around the end of August through early September, as early planting gives you bigger heads at harvest time. Note: If you're going to use a catalog or online source, order your garlic now, so it's on hand at planting time, which will be soon!

• You harvest your 'fall planted' garlic the following 'Spring' (more like early Summer) when the greenery on the bottom third of the plants has turned brown and the wrappers are nice and full, which is around the middle of July in my Zone 6 garden—but don't go by the calendar; go by the look of your plants.

• 'Cure' your harvest by letting it sit out in a cool dry spot with great air circulation for a week. Mine sits on a table on my porch under a ceiling fan, which is ideal. Do NOT let the bulbs sit out in bright sun or you'll cook away the volatile aromatic oils that give different strains their distinctive flavors.

• Then cut off most of the stem, look each bulb over for damaged cloves and use any of them right away—like to make a big whole wheat pizza with tomato sauce, garlic, organic cheese, garlic, spinach, garlic, broccoli, garlic, roasted red peppers

…And a little garlic.

• Then carefully break open the smallest heads of the rest of the harvest and use those cloves for cooking over the next month. Any big cloves you find should be set aside in a bowl to start up your replanting stock. (You can get surprisingly large cloves from some small heads.)

• It is vitally important to save the biggest cloves for replanting! Keep replanting your biggest cloves and you'll get bigger cloves every year at harvest time. Note: Don't dilly dally with the sorting if you planted hardneck garlic, because you're racing the clock.

DIGRESSION FOR DEFINITION: • Softneck or 'white garlic' is the type most often grown in California. It can last a year in storage without sprouting and it braids well, but the flavors aren't as bold as hardnecks. It is, however, the garlic of choice to grow in warm winter climes.

• The hardneck garlics—which have wonderful heirloom (Italian, Russian, etc…) stories, fabulous flavors and colorful wrappers—grow better in areas with real winters, BUT the harvested cloves start to sprout by Thanksgiving, which means you've only got a couple of months to try and preserve your entire wintertime supply. That's why I started making garlic powder—to preserve this otherwise ephemeral harvest until the following year.

• Now, as we approach planting time—which is right around when the kids go back to school—you must sort out your remaining cloves. Big ones get replanted; smaller ones get processed. If some of them already have that little green tip that shows that they've begun sprouting, they get planted. Sprouting affects the flavor but doesn't inhibit underground growth.

• The unplanted portion of the harvest gets chopped up and the slices placed in a food dryer/dehydrator to get dried until they're brittle. Then, in this brave new world of garlic powder, the dried chunks get placed into spice jars with some of those desiccating pouches that are packed with running shoes and vitamins to absorb any last-minute moisture. ("Last minute moisture"; Great name for a punk band!)

• Anyway, when you need more powder, place some of the dried chunks into a dedicated coffee grinder (one that has never actually ground any coffee), grind up a bunch, place the resulting powder in a clean dry spice jar with a shaker lid, and add some more of those desiccating thingies to keep it dry.

• "Keep your powder dry"!

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