Garlic, the Celebrity

The Northeast, with its abundance of garden pests and inconvenient frosts, is not kind to many crops. But garlic plants seem to love these conditions. Here, they can be planted in the ground in the fall, where they relish the cozy solitude of a frozen landscape above them. And garlic plants are said to repel two of the region’s most notorious garden outlaws: rabbits and moles.

It’s not surprising that New Englanders have celebrated such agronomic fortune by awarding the crop its own party: the annual Garlic & Harvest Festival in Bethlehem, Connecticut. How many ways can garlic be added to sauces, hot dogs, burgers, condiments, and jellies? How many ways can garlic require everyone in a couple/family/group to eat it, so that everyone’s breath is at the same pungent garlic level (which somehow makes it OK)?

I started with Burdick Creek Gardens’ Hot Bobcat Sauce, whose mild garlic flavor sits nicely in a balance of heat and sweetness.  According to the label, the sauce is recommended for your favorite road kill. Perhaps that is where the sauce’s name came from.  I saw plenty of flattened raccoons on the roads over the weekend, but never felt the urge to stop & scrape.  Now, if a garden-destroying rabbit happened to have succumbed to Firestones or Goodyears, I might have been able to include another serving suggestion…

Anyway, Piedmonte Garlic Farm made sure we all became familiarized with the breadth of garlic’s genetic diversity. They sold seven different varieties, from Turkish to Vietnamese to the well-known elephant garlic, which is actually a wild leek.  My wife and I brought a combo bundle with samples of each kind, and we have only begun to experiment with them.  I already tried the Turkish garlic in a carrot-parsnip soup and gave it a thumbs-up for playing well with cinnamon and chile pepper.

What is a garlic aficionado without garlic accessories? And by garlic accessories, I mean a rubber tube thingie that easily loosens garlic skin from the clove, and a ceramic garlic mincer that is a safe alternative to a grater.  After using the ceramic mincer for the above carrot-parsnip soup, I am happy to report that no knuckle skin was sacrificed to the cause of furthering gastronomy. Bonus points for the guy’s garlic bulb hat.

Only at a garlic festival would I consider trying deep-fried garlic. After topping said delicacy with a dollop of spicy mayo at Spacey Tracy’s food truck, the cloves were everything you love about oven-roasted garlic, but not as healthy.  As rich as they were, the cloves pushed the envelope of the garlic gimmick factor, because they set off my tongue’s garlic overload.  I could not finish the basket, although I could see the cloves doing well as a spread on bread, if I had some handy.

Not every vendor sold garlic-spiked products (hence the harvest portion of the “garlic and harvest” festival).  Meriden, Connecticut-based Om Nom Nom’s jellies were what I needed to balance garlic’s inevitable power. The company named itself after the sound that the Cookie Monster makes when he chows down, and as I was raised on Sesame Street, I had to give them a try, especially now that Big Bird’s neck could end up on the chopping block. As advertised, their low-sugar root beer jelly was not overly sweet (“We want you to taste the fruit” goes their tagline), and I found that it went wonderfully on a Turkish simit. I was left wondering what kind of onomatopoeia falls from the Cookie Monster’s furry lips when he is on the air in Turkey. Maybe I should stop wondering. If Romney somehow gets elected, I might just have to get my Sesame Street fix from Turkish television via satellite.

We all know that clever product names draw attention.  That would explain why a crowd of capsaicin-addicted folks hovered around the table of Palatable Pepper Products, whose flagship seasoning is their “Not For Pussies” ghost chile powder. They even trademarked the name, to prevent other politically incorrect spice companies from stealing their glory.  My wife and I already have ghost chiles at home, so we opted for their “For Winers” sangria-flavored beef jerky. It was delightfully tender and a little sticky, two great qualities for beef jerky, which is oftentimes so tough it can handily double as a saddle strap.  But the best thing about sangria-flavored beef jerky is that it helps to combat garlic breath.  For a little while.

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About OmnivorousTraveler

Darrin DuFord is a travel writer, mapgazer, and jungle rodent connoisseur. His writing has won numerous awards and has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, BBC Travel, Gastronomica, Roads & Kingdoms, Narratively, and Perceptive Travel, among other publications. He is the author of Breakfast for Alligators: Quests, Showdowns and Revelations in the Americas (released in July 2016) and Is There a Hole in the Boat? Tales of Travel in Panama without a Car, silver medalist in the 2007 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Awards.
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