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It’s good, we promise!
Here at Shalom Acres, our little hobby farm in Greenville’s Apple Valley, the leaves are mostly fallen, we’ve had a couple of hard frosts, and our once-lush vegetable gardens are barren – a combination that for some might seem depressing.
But wait. In all this there is pending rebirth and promise at the darkest time of the year, and that promise glows in: garlic.
Revered through history for its enhancement of cuisine, its arguable medicinal qualities, and its legendary ability to ward off evil spirits, garlic provides Shalom Acres with potential new life when all else has withered before the steady approach of winter.
Folklore says to plant it after the third frost, a dictum to which we adhere only loosely. Mid-November is when we unpack milk-white bulbs saved from our previous harvest, break them into cloves, and set them into the soil under a protective blanket of straw. Oftentimes, we see green shoots by Christmas that seem impervious to the cold and sprout in earnest by April.
Like us, our garlic is descended from immigrants. A few bulbs friends gave us years ago from their garden had their own origin in Italy. Now their numbers have increased so one crop supplies our kitchen until the next, with plenty left over to plant and give away.
Despite praise galore from everyday cooks to the rich and famous, garlic is unpretentious – it seeks no special attention save a bit of weeding and watering and obliges by maturing in mid-summer, opening space in the gardens for other short-season crops.
We defer judgment of garlic’s medicinal qualities to those who study and debate its supposed effects on a variety of maladies, while appreciating that even the Greek physician Hippocrates, known as the father of Western medicine, touted its healing qualities more than 2,000 years ago.
And we are impressed with research that says slaves who built the Egyptian pyramids were fed garlic to keep them healthy.
As for other uses, various lists indicate that garlic is as useful as WD-40, allegedly capable of being made into a pesticide, strengthening fingernails, filling cracks in glass, being an effective fish bait, and warding off mosquitoes.
No wonder the raves are many, with most centering on what garlic does for recipes. The best endorsement of all came from the late TV newsman Morley Safer, for decades a bulwark on CBS, who said in an appropriately journalistic accolade: “You can never have enough garlic. With enough garlic you can eat the New York Times.”
One suspects that even back in the day the CBS news team practiced social distancing when Safer was on the set.
He wasn’t the only TV personality who thought garlic was out of this world. William Shatner, Captain Kirk on “Star Trek,” once observed, “Stop and smell the garlic! That’s all you have to do.”
The late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain also thought garlic transcended earthly bounds, declaring, “Garlic is divine… Please, treat your garlic with respect.”
Around here, we happily follow his orders, even though we admit that in warmer weather we do observe the occasional mosquito. However, in 20 years on the premises we have yet to spot a single vampire.
Gerry Goldstein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist.