This year I harvested about 11 pounds of garlic from my backyard garden. After it had cured for a few weeks, we started eating it in the latter part of July. This week I had to finally admit that all the remaining three varieties were reaching the limits of storage. Each time I cut into a bulb, a slender yellow-green shoot was visible in the center, getting ready to bust out of the bulb and sprout. So, with a somewhat sad heart, I decided it was time to process the rest of the bulbs before the sprouting went any further.
I used three different methods to process the garlic. All of them rendered the stinking rose suitable for long term storage. The first method requires some specialized equipment, but the other two do not.
Method the first: I peeled and thinly sliced three heads of garlic, then arranged the slices on a tray of my dehydrator. It took about six hours or so to remove the moisture and render the slices into tough dry garlic chips. These will store at room temperature indefinitely, though they won't last all that long. I'll keep them tightly sealed in clean glass jar in the cupboard, where it'll be fairly dark. In this form, the garlic can be used in soups or stews. If I grind the chips up, I'll have homemade garlic powder, which might be nice on pizza.
The second method was making compound butter. I processed the majority of my remaining garlic in this way. All I had to do was allow butter to soften, and finely mince the garlic. I mixed these two ingredients together until the garlic was evenly blended into the butter. Then I formed the compound butter into little logs, wrapped them up in plastic wrap, and froze them. This will probably prove to be the most versatile form of processed garlic. And it's got more garlic than I would normally use for the amount of butter in there, which means it's highly concentrated. I'll get a lot of garlic for just a little added butter, though I can always add more butter if I want to. There are numerous ways of using this garlic compound butter: on toast, in sauces, on pasta, in mashed potatoes, and as a dollop of decadence on servings of soup. I could even fry my eggs in it. It will keep in the freezer for about three months.
Lastly, I roasted a few heads of garlic when I prepared a whole chicken for dinner. This is a very simple way of processing garlic. I simply removed as many of the papery layers around the bulbs as I could, and then cut off the top of the head so that a portion of each bulb was exposed. Some people add a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt to heads of garlic before roasting. I don't bother, because the roasted garlic tastes great without this extra step. I just wrap each head in a small piece of aluminum foil and toss it in the oven for about an hour. The temperature doesn't matter too much. Anything from 300F to 400F could work, with the total roasting time varying accordingly. Roasted garlic won't keep as easily or as long as the other methods of processing. But on the other hand, it's also the most ready to eat form of the three methods. I find myself spreading a few sticky-sweet cloves on sandwich bread and adding them whole to just about anything I can think of to eat. If I had a great many heads of roasted garlic, I would store some in the freezer, very well wrapped up.
There are other good methods for storing garlic. Pickling is one good method. And some Russians I know swear by a cure-all made from hot chili peppers and raw garlic marinated for several days in vodka. Garlic confit is another cooked form of processing in which many whole cloves are very gently poached in olive oil.
But I have a serious warning now for a garlic storage method which has an enduring and dangerous popularity. Do not store raw garlic in oil, not even in the refrigerator. Like all root vegetables, garlic always has the potential of harboring the botulism bacteria, which is commonly found in most soil types. This is a facultative anaerobic bacteria. What that means is that it can survive in the presence of lots of oxygen, but it really prefers a very low-oxygen environment. When garlic is in the soil, sitting on your shelf, or hanging in a net bag in your basement, it's harmless, because of the high-oxygen environment. The bacteria itself in fact poses no risk to us if we consume small quantities of it. But when you put raw garlic in oil, there is very little oxygen. That means that if there are any botulinum bacteria there, they'll be very happy, and they will begin to create the very powerful and deadly botulism toxin. This toxin cannot be destroyed by cooking, though you may well kill the bacteria that created the toxin. Only a microscopic amount of this toxin is needed to kill a healthy adult. While storing garlic in oil in the refrigerator may slow the bacteria down, it will not kill or completely halt the bacteria. I personally know people who have used this method of storage for years without any ill effects. But they're taking an incredible risk. If they should be unlucky enough to get a case of botulism poisoning, it won't make them sick; it'll probably kill them, and anyone else they serve their stored garlic to.
Okay, on to lighter topics. For kicks, I compared our personal per capita garlic consumption to national statistics. Given that we ate through 10 pounds of garlic in just under 6 months, I make that 10 pounds per person per year in our household. That puts us at more than three times the national average for the US. Of course, we don't come anywhere near Korean levels of garlic consumption, where the average adult reputedly eats through more than a bulb a day. We eat a LOT of it though, both raw and cooked. If it turns out that I live to some extraordinary old age, I'll attribute that longevity to garlic.
I will definitely miss having my own homegrown garlic for the next seven months or so, until next year's crop comes in. And I will deeply resent having to pay for it at the grocery store. I doubt any local grower of garlic will have any to offer at the few farmer's markets that continue to operate through the winter. But I am glad that I made the best use out of this produce and prevented it from going to waste.
The Promise of Garlic