Garlic: a bulb for all tastes

By    16th April 2012.  Find Full Article Here:-

Wild, green or purple-tinged, there’s a variety of garlic to suit all tastes. Maria Fitzpatrick asks Britain’s leading garlic-farming family for their tips .

Bulb harvest at Mesley Farm

Bulb harvest at Mesley Farm Photo: PETER CASSIDY

Long before Marmite, Bram Stoker was on to the love-hate, good versus evil thing. He put his finger on garlic’s delicious irony: it’s the one food we associate with being off-putting to others yet is almost impossible to resist.

Despite popular belief, though, the writer wasn’t the first to invest the “mighty bulb” with special powers, according to Natasha Edwards, who grew up on Mersley Farm, the famous garlic farm in the Isle of Wight, and has just written a new guide to it.

“Dracula cemented the idea, but garlic has a long, rich connection with mystery and myth,” she says. “In ancient Greece and Egypt it was sewn into the clothes of travellers, and given to Olympic athletes and soldiers for strength and luck. They realised then that it had powerful health properties, and the idea of garlic warding off danger sprang from there.”

Now, of course, we have the science to back it up – the World Health Organisation recommends 2g-5g of raw garlic a day, to promote general health – so, smelly as it is, it shouldn’t be a guilty pleasure.

Natasha’s parents, Colin and Jenny Boswell, harvested their first garlic crop in 1977, grown from two precious sacks of bulbs from the Auvergne. Natasha amused herself as a child by daring her friends to eat raw cloves from the freshly harvested bulbs. “My brother Ollie and I used to lead them out to the fields, and giggle as the flavour overwhelmed their taste buds. What my parents were doing was highly unusual in the Seventies; most of my friends had never heard of, let alone tasted, garlic,” she laughs.

The farm is now world renowned, and grows 60 acres (2.5 million bulbs) a year – mainly ‘Solent White’, a “long-lasting, all-rounder” developed for the British climate; they also explore 20 new varieties each year, and run an education centre dedicated to garlic.

Natasha adores the stronger, purple-tinged varieties such as ‘Lautrec’ and ‘Purple Moldovan’, which also have their roots in France, but, having inherited her mother’s love of cooking, she embraces the “stinking rose” in every form. “Although it’s a staple in our kitchens now, I think that the variation in taste of the different types is still not widely understood,” she says.

For those who don’t subscribe to the 40-clove chicken mentality, or can’t wait for the main harvest in July, wet (or green) garlic – coming into season in May – is the perfect choice. It’s pulled up before the individual cloves have developed and has a milder flavour than mature garlic. “You can treat it like a spring onion, chopped into stir fries and salads, but it’s really wonderful roasted,” Natasha says. “Just remove the very tops, slice the bulb and stems in half, drizzle with olive oil and roast for 30 minutes. It also makes a pungent pesto, which I drizzle over lamb.”

Now is also the time to hit the hedgerows, to make the best of what’s growing in the wild.

Allium ursinum, common wild garlic, is usually found carpeting damp, deciduous woodland or river valleys. The first leaves – a wide, elliptical shape – appear in early spring, with their star-shaped flowers blooming towards the end of the season. Both the leaves and flowers are edible. Natasha recommends stirring it, chopped, into risotto, or spooning it over a bowl of buttery new potatoes. One word of caution, though: the leaves look very similar to lily of the valley, which is poisonous, but it can be identified by rubbing a leaf between your fingers – the scent is unmistakable.

Garlic: The Mighty Bulb by Natasha Edwards (£14.99; Kyle Books; photos by Peter Cassidy)

– The Isle of Wight Garlic Festival, where you can find everything from garlic beer to ice cream, is in its 26th year; Aug 18-19 (01983 741510; garlic-festival.co.uk )

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