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Friday, February 27, 2015

Everything’s Coming Up Stinking Roses

From the Garden Dept.: We have grown a crop of garlic every year since the trip described below, in the fall of 2008. We now take for granted a crop of scapes in the spring and the crisp, spicy cloves that see us through the fall and winter.


IF YOU SEE ME IN MY YARD working the tiller in the next few days, this will tell you why. I’m preparing the soil to plant a fascinating crop that has the honor of being the first to push through in the spring, and which will reward me not only with pungent cloves of garlic but also one of the most delightful early-season vegetables: garlic scapes, which I’ll take over asparagus any time.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
I got a bag of seed garlic and a motivational kick in the ass at last weekend’s Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, a two-day celebration held in Saugerties and attracting patrons and participants from around the country.

In addition to lectures and cooking demonstrations, this year’s event featured 56 growers,
73 business vendors, 80 artisans, 35 food booths spread an easy walk around the grounds, not counting five music and entertainment stages.

The Garlic Goddess moved, sylphlike, through the festival, a circlet of garlic woven into her hair. And she has every right to do so: she’s Pat Reppert, of Shale Hill Farm and Herb Garden, who organized the first festival here in 1989. It was held at her farm and attracted about a hundred people, drawn by word of mouth and her farm’s newsletter. A year later, attendance quadrupled.

By 1992, she knew she needed a bigger venue, and with sponsorship from the Saugerties Kiwanis Club, the festival was moved to Cantine Field. Expected attendance of 2,500 turned into 5,000, despite some rain. A year later, attendance rose to 13,000. When the number rose to over 40,000 in 1995 (with accompanying traffic backups clear out to the Thruway), the festival expanded to two days.

It won a special honor in 2002 when USA Today named it one of the Top Ten Regional Food Festivals in the country.

And food is here in abundance, most of it, naturally, garlic related. Still, there was the look of any carnival midway as people passed us gnawing drippy blooming onions, fat Kaiser rolls of sausages and peppers, pizza and, of course, ice cream. But I suggest you resist sampling the garlic ice cream until later in the day, when your palate will be prepared.

“Hot garlic! Hot garlic!” shouted Bob Nogash, brandishing a braid before the Gillie Farms booth. He grows in Memphis, west of Syracuse, and notes that his garlic, which truly is spicy, gets its flavor from a combination of well-chosen soil and seed.

Syracuse’s Antolini Plantation has been selling garlic, onions and shallots at the festival for over 20 years, and it’s worth the trip, a sentiment echoed by Nick Delforte of Garlic by Del-40, who’s near Canandaigua. “I sell my garlic through Miller’s Seed Catalogue,” he says, “and I shipped out 300 pounds of German White three weeks ago. They just asked if I had another 200 pounds and I told them nope. Because I wanted something to bring here.”

Free Bird Farm of Palatine Bridge is a purveyor of natural poultry to hipper area restaurants, but they also grow their own garlic and had a nice crop of Spanish Roja in their booth. “We move a lot of garlic here,” says Ken Fruehstorfer, “and we can get a good price.”

If you spend any time at all at the cheese counter of Albany’s Honest Weight Food Co-op, you’ve sampled BuddhaPesto, a splendid version of an age-old garlic favorite, that mixture of basil and pine nuts, olive oil and cheese that decorates pasta so nicely.

“It’s all we make, so it has to be good,” says Maria Gandara, who runs the Woodstock-based business with Gregor Trieste. “It’s certainly not the world’s cheapest pesto, but I use the best possible ingredients, and have a duty to keep the quality high.” Flavor samples flew off the tables and already bulging tote bags filled with the colorful BuddhaPesto container.

Seasoned attendees carry a shopping list, and patronize the same vendors year after year. This could include Swarmbustin’ Honey, from Chatham, PA, which offers a variety of natural flavors as well as garlic-infused honey; Vinnie’s Farm Market in Saugerties, which makes garlic spread and garlic jelly, and Manny’s Pit Bull Hot Sauce, traveling up from Long Island to sell an array of fiery sauces with garlicky flavors.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Suffering a measure of garlic fatigue, I chatted with Bob Dunkel, press editor of the Garlic Seed Foundation (, which serves as a clearinghouse for growers and consumers eager to learn more. “A few of us who were growing garlic in the area” – this is around Rome, NY – “got together for potluck suppers from time to time and discovered that we had a wealth of knowledge among us,” he said. This gave rise to a newsletter, and soon Cornell Cooperative Extension went to them for advice. “All of the garlic information back then was coming out of India and Pakistan.” The GSF now has published several garlic-centric books in addition to the ongoing newsletter, and continues to bring members together to share knowledge and resources. “We have members in all 50 states as well as Europe,” Dunkel says proudly.

What do you do with all this garlic? Learn to chop it as deftly as Ric Orlando does, for starters. The telegenic chef-owner of Saugerties-based restaurant New World Home Cooking Co. offered a lecture-demonstration in which he prepared a pair of Mediterranean dishes that contrasted garlic in its raw and cooked forms.

First a puttanesca fresca sauce that began with a handful of lustrous white cloves rendered with machinelike speed into a minced, aromatic pile. Combined with olives and capers, tomatoes and parsley and enough anchovies to provoke audience moans of dismay, it burst in the mouth with a spicy darkness: sweet, acidic and very much umami, that palate-sparking flavor we once got from MSG.

Roman brunch is the name Orlando gives to a hot garlic-and-oil sauce, its flavor a result of carefully, slowly cooking garlic slivers until they’re golden, imparting a richness that’s more about caramel than spice.

“I’ve been doing demos here for ten, maybe eleven years,” Orlando says, “and we usually have a booth here, too, but this year the restaurant had too many parties. Which is probably a good thing for the people who’ve had the booth next to us. Our blackened string beans are a huge favorite, but they stink up the place even more than garlic.”

Back at the growers area, we finished with a visit to Stan Erkson’s booth. His passion lies not only in the cultivation of garlic, which he does at Alpha Garlic Farm in Fort Plain, but also in encouraging others to grow it as well. Or nearly as well. This would seem to be a lousy marketing strategy if you’re selling the stuff, but, like so many others I met here, he’s part of a community of enthusiasts eager to draw others into that community.

And so he sold us a four-pound bag of German White, the easiest variety for a beginner to grow. We discussed our soil, and how it will be tilled. How we’re going to mulch it, and the necessity of constant weeding – don’t run that rototiller too deep between the rows, he insisted, or I’ll take out the garlic roots.

He promised that we’ll greet spring with our own rows of this pungent crop. We promised to return next September to show off the results.

Metroland Magazine, 2 October 2008

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