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!