Saturday, March 5, 2011

Farewell to Fresh Garlic


While our first WWOOF volunteers of the year were here, one of our indoor tasks was to process what remained of last year's garlic crop.  Preserving what remained involved peeling all those individual cloves, cutting them open to remove the sprouts (which are slightly bitter), slicing them finely, and dehydrating all the slices.  It's a rather mindless, tedious job - one that would have taken me all day in the kitchen if I'd had to do it entirely by myself.  Two extra people pitching in made the work go very quickly, and I was extremely grateful for the help.  Our volunteers genuinely seemed not to mind, and to be interested in the process of dehydrating foods.

We did better with last year's crop of garlic than with any previous harvest in terms of storage.  Some of it lasted until this month, though much of it was sprouty.  In late December of 2008 I was already processing that year's crop because it was at the end of its shelf life.  Mostly I think the improvement in shelf life is attributable to storing it in the cooler temperatures of the root cellar.

One tiny tip that I don't think I've shared here before is a way of repurposing what might otherwise end up as part of the waste stream into a convenient way of using up the dehydrated garlic chips.  Some spice companies are now selling whole peppercorns (including black and white organic peppercorns) in disposable jars that are also pepper mills.  These can be re-used as grinders for any spice of the right size, including dried garlic chips.  When all the pepper has been consumed, the lids of these mills can be screwed off and both the jar and the grinder-cap washed.  When both pieces are thoroughly dry, I fill the jar with my dried garlic flakes and keep it with my other pepper mills.  The rest of the chips will be stored in a cool and dark place until needed.

I rely on this dehydrated garlic much more heavily during the garlic drought months of the year - those months between processing the last of the garlic (now), and garlic harvest (early summer).  I use it in soups, pasta dishes, and have even been known to grind some directly onto a leftover roast chicken sandwich.  An especially nice winter use for the ground garlic is in a cup of hot chicken broth with a small dab of white miso stirred in.  Bone-warming goodness, that is.  The whole chips work well in some soups and stews too, as well as meatloaf, in which it rehydrates by absorbing and holding in the juices, and long cooking dishes such as polenta or risotto.

I sent our WWOOF volunteers on their way with our old, cheap dehydrator and many explanations as to its design faults and shortcomings. I suggested they bear with the crummy version for a season or two, to see if they would actually use a dehydrator.  If so, they could bite the bullet and purchase a good quality dehydrator, such as an Excalibur.   I asked them that either way - whether they upgraded to a good dehydrator, or decided it wasn't for them - they pass the dehydrator on to someone curious about this method of food preservation.  It's a nice thought to imagine our first el cheapo dehydrator out there in the world, helping people learn a skill and preserve homegrown food.  I vastly prefer giving a not-so-great appliance away with full disclosure and a pay-it-forward agreement to trying to sell it to someone while concealing its many flaws.

Now I've got a very short breather before our next WWOOF volunteer shows up tomorrow.  Good to have the extra help; it certainly keeps me on my toes!

12 comments:

Paula said...

Great post! I was just talking with my husband about taking down all the garlic and onions in the garage because they need different storage now. I didn't think of dehydrating it, but the idea of peeling all those cloves is really daunting. However, it's better than losing all of it.

My oven has a dehydrating setting on it- I think the maximum temperature setting on that cycle is 140 degrees. And my sister bought an Excaliber around Christmas time, although I never did ask her what she was going to dry with it...

Wendy said...

Love that you grind it. I'm sure your dehydrated garlic chips are much more flavorful than the garlic powder from the grocery.

Great idea, by the way!

Dmarie said...

wow, a garlic mother lode! Hubby just told me at lunch that we've some garlic coming back up in the garden. we won't have enough to dry, but love the idea!

meemsnyc said...

I love the idea of re-using the pepper grinder. I never thought to do that before, it's such a great idea to use it for dried garlic. Awesome.

Mrs. J @ Road Less Traveled said...

I never would have thought to dry garlic and then use it in a pepper mill! This is brilliant! Thank you! We are planning to grow garlic next season.

Kate said...

Paula, I agree that it's tedious work, but better than letting it go to waste. I have a low-end Excalibur model. They recommend 125F for dehydrating vegetables. If your sister's nearby, maybe you could borrow hers?

Wendy, thanks. I think it probably is better than store bought. It's considerably more coarse too. But having at least some portion of the garlic still intact probably means that freshly ground is, well....fresher, and therefore better.

Dmarie, just watch. A few heads of garlic this year, and in a couple more years you'll be planting your own garlic motherlode.

meemsnyc, one brand sells organic peppercorns in a nice sturdy glass jar with a grinder cap. Can't remember which one, but I recommend that one if you can find it. The plastic versions seem like they might not hold up as well, though all the grinder caps themselves are plastic.

Mrs. J, you're welcome. I hope the garlic does well for you.

patricialynn said...

I love this idea! Heck, I might even use freshly ground garlic year round, for those days when I want to cook something nice but don't have time to mince everything by hand.

Summersweet Farm said...

I was just thinking of you today and wondering when I'd feel confident enough to get some Woof-ers over to my place. It's been great to see your end of the experience through your blog.

In other news, I've got a little surprise for you over here! :D
http://twocatpots.com/?p=2187

cookiecrumb said...

I have yet to grow garlic (though I know I can). This is so cool. I actually like dried garlic.

So! The "disposable" pepper grinder? Just take the grindy lid part off and put it on another bottle you want to grind from, and rotate it around to others as required. (The grindy parts pick up lots of flavor.)

Kate said...

Patricialynn, I do keep it on hand year round. But it gets the biggest workout when there's no homegrown alternative around.

Summersweet Farm, I would encourage you to give it a try. Volunteers vary; a very few of ours have been duds, but most are welcome back anytime. Try it and see if it works for you. And thanks again for the award.

Cookie! You wanton flavor-mixer, you! So what other spices do you grind? Coriander would obviously work, maybe cumin, mustard...?

marriedtothefarm said...

That's great that you passed along your dehydrator. I'm sure they were thrilled!

Kate said...

mttf, I hope it's useful for them. I expect I'll hear back from them sooner or later. I like to keep in touch with our volunteers.