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September 2008

Gourmet Garlic Goodness
By The Growing Gardener

The Growing Gardener archive

Chesnok Red cloves exposed on stalk
Chesnok Red garlic

I bought gourmet garlic at the Chehalis (Wash.) Garlic Festival last week. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon about 2 p.m. The festival tone was mild and the attendance sparse . . . my mom and I felt like we had the festival to ourselves . . . and enjoyed wandering freely to various booths that featured garlic jelly, garlic cashews, garlic salsas, pickled garlic, and, surprisingly, garlic ice cream!

We finally found our way to the stuff in its purest form . . . the cloves! More than 120 varieties of garlic were listed on the buy sheet but about half of them were already sold out! We learned that earlier in the morning the line was out the door with garlic enthusiasts.

I looked inside a couple of baskets that had just one or two remaining cloves, so I picked up those. I ended up with three brown paper bags each with three types of garlic: Chesnok Red, Spanish Morado, and Metechi. The bulbs were tight and smallish and some had a thick, hard stalk in the middle of the head.

I had no idea what I had found until I did some research and learned there are five general groups of garlic:

Purple Stripe. Characteristic of Purple Stripe garlic is its hard stalk in the middle of the head, called a hardneck (see photo). The hardneck variety grows well in cool, wet conditions. Both the Chesnok Red and Metechi that I picked up are of the hardneck Purple Stripe group. Chesnok Red bulbs are white on the outside with 8 to 10 red cloves inside. Sunset magazine named it "best baking garlic." It's known to have a sweet taste and good lingering flavor. I learned from garlicmeister and grower Bob Anderson of Bangs, Texas, that it is originally from Shvelisi, Republic of Georgia, and wasn't available to the United States until after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. Metechi, also from the Republic of Georgia, is known for its large bulbs, pointed tips, and hot taste.

Artichoke. The commercial garlic that you probably buy at the grocery store is the softneck Artichoke group and is more than likely California Early or California Late. Characteristics of Artichoke garlic are lots of cloves (between 12 and 20), easy to grow everywhere (okay with warmer weather), and stores well.

Silverskin. These are also of the softneck variety and usually the kind you see in braids.

A subspecies of Silverskin is Creole. Creole garlic grows well in the south and warmer climates. Spanish Morado ("morado" means purple) is a softneck Creole garlic. It originates from the Caribbean area. Although most garlic groups prefer cooler, northern temperatures, both the Artichoke and Creole varieties will grow in warmer climates. Spanish Morado has 10 to 12 cloves per bulb.

Porcelain. A beautiful garlic with a shiny, satiny sheen that reportedly packs between 4 and 6 large cloves. Porcelain is in the hardneck group and prefers cooler climates.

Rocambole. A culinary delight that is grown only in the north. This garlic is the most particular about growing conditions and does not store well. It's also has a brown cast and looks dirty, but it reportedly has a strong, rich, and deep flavor. Rocambole sets its bulbs above the ground, has little outer parchment, and produces a flowering stem (unlike the other groups).

If you want to grow your own gourmet garlic, here are some tidbits:

  • Garlic can grow in containers.
  • Garlic, overall, does not like a hot, dry spring.
  • Some cats like garlic, but it is toxic to them.
  • Artichoke varieties are the easiest all around to grow, but Northerners should try the hardnecks (Purple Stripe, Porcelain, or Rocambole) for fun!
  • All you need to do is plant the garlic cloves. I'm going to try it this year.

Next year, my mom and I will need to get to the Chehalis festival earlier in the day to find some prized Rocambole!

You can order garlic online from Ashley Creek Farm.

Another resource: Gourmet Garlic Gardens.

Festival information: Chehalis Garlic Festival.


The Growing Gardener is Gina Renee Lozier, a Seattle-area resident, a landscape and container garden designer, and an enthusiastic student of horticulture.


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