August is Garlic Month for me.
Besides having a barn draped with curing garlic for the month of August, my mom and I spend Wednesday afternoons selling garlic-planting packages at Lemont Farmers Market. We have Great Bulbs of Fire (Georgia Fire, Asian Tempest & German White), Stinking Rose Bouquet (Spanish Roja, Metechi & Music) and new this year, the Granary Garlic Collection (Zemo, Quiet Creek and Chesnok Red).
On the first two Fridays of August, I taught a course at the house called Garlic 101 through Penn State’s OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) for students of a “certain age.”
The first class, on the morning of Aug. 7, I told the class I knew what I was doing exactly a quarter of a century ago. I was picking basil in the garden and chopping home-grown garlic to make a batch of pesto. That evening, my pesto baby, Marina, was born. In celebration of her first quarter century, she and Koen had friends over for a pesto tasting party with basil and garlic grown in their Belgian garden. The circle of life, in our family, is shaped like a bulb of garlic.
During the class, I had garlic roasting in the oven. Not only did it add authentic fragrance to the lecture, students got to smear the stuff on crackers for tasting. I also read my favorite garlic quote: “Tomato and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.” That gem comes from Alice May Brock, a woman who ran Alice’s Restaurant, made famous in a ballad by Arlo Guthrie.
After class, a student named Jim pulled me aside and told me a wonderful story. When he was a young buck in the late 1960s, he and his buddies called up Alice and asked if they could meet her. They ended up staying with Alice in the Berkshires for the weekend—partying and eating and creating their own chapter of anti-war folk music history. My mother questioned what he was talking about, and I mentioned there was a song by Arlo Guthrie with the words, “You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant,” and that he actually visited Alice’s Restaurant and met Alice. “Hmmm, you can get anything you want?” she said with a twinkle in her eyes and a raised eyebrow. “Except Alice,” his wife quickly added.
At the second Friday class, I once again crossed the line from teacher to student. First, David told me his father went home to Italy in 1942 and brought back a family heirloom, simply called Italian Red Garlic. He and his family have been growing it in the U.S. ever since. He shared the garlic with his fellow Houtzdale buddy Frank, and oh, the stories Frank told.
Frank is a member of a garden cult I didn’t know existed–Competition Gardeners. There is actually a Pennsylvania Great Pumpkin Growers Association that has an annual weigh-off in nearby Altoona each October. Frank was spouting off his stats right and left, but heck, I was the teacher, not the student, and didn’t have a pen in my hand. Luckily, I Googled the results of the competitions and can give you a sampling of his accomplishments:
Frank has grown a 3.42 pound tomato, a 99-pound watermelon, and, ta-da-ta-da…a 694.5-pound pumpkin. He drove a giant pumpkin to a resort in the Poconos in the back of his pickup. The manager was so impressed that he gave Frank’s family a free vacation at the resort. By the way, Frank’s experiment this summer is growing peanuts in Clearfield County—along with a patch of okra.
But getting back to garlic, Frank grows David’s Italian Red—300 bulbs a year and consumes them all—except for what he plants. He puts the scapes around his flowers to keep the deer away, makes a mean dip from ramps he finds in the woods, and dries much of his garlic to make garlic powder that he puts on everything. Not only did he share his method for making garlic powder—he shared the numbers: 275 cloves of garlic yield one quart of garlic powder.
No sooner had he finished the garlic powder lesson, he jumped to another passion…privy digging, a topic he sometimes teaches, that combines back-road archaeology with glass bottle treasure hunting. Meanwhile, I’m hoping I have enough energy in the next couple of weeks to make a pint or so of garlic powder. As for the privy digging…there is an old foundation of the original farmhouse in the old llama pasture that I mow around. The area is ripe for privy digging…if only I could find the time. Laurie Lynch
Ag Progress Days Update: Our luffas are looking grand in the high tunnel. We have one that measures 21 inches long—take that, Frank. Meanwhile, I was photographing the beauties and fell off the table that holds the water barrel. Rather than grabbing a luffa vine and swinging down a la Tarzan, I reached for the 55-gallon water barrel that I had just filled—it broke my fall, but I ended up with a bloody mess on my knee. Gardening is full of adventure
Written on Slate: Everything in moderation, including moderation. Oscar Wilde