The perfect bulb of garlic has fat cloves and terrible structural integrity i.e. the cloves are splitting apart from each iother at the base, a bit like petals on a flower.
Commercial garlic growers do not like garlic like that, as the individual cloves can break off in transport and the bulbs will look tatty and unsellable. You can only get 'petalled' bulbs like this if you grow them or a friend grows them or you have access to the produce at a farmer's market.
The perfect garlic is also probably a purple variety… at least that is my favourite garlic just now. This may change tomorrow, or next week, especially if someone presents me with some red garlic- I haven't tried red garlic yet.
Sadly, unlike purple spuds, which are passionately purple, purple garlic only has a vague purpley tinge at the base. 'Purple' is not even the word that springs to mind when you see it. Or cook the cloves. Or taste them.
The perfect garlic is also freshly picked, which sadly, is not now, though home grown garlic picked last spring is still a delight. This is garlic planting time, not picking time. Try baking a bulb of garlic that has only been out of the ground a week or two next spring or early summer, then spread it on fresh toast or still-warm freshly baked bread. No butter.
Just the bread and the garlic and you. Possibly not with your six best friends, or a prospective employer, as the scent of fresh bread and fresh-grown, fresh-baked garlic is delectable only to the person who has just eaten it. Your arm pits should not be sniffed by others for twenty-four hours, either.
The perfect garlic is sown now. Buy your seed garlic, which is not a seed but just ordinary garlic cloves that are guaranteed disease free and that haven't been irradiated so they won't sprout, because if they wont sprout they won't grow.
Now prepare the ground, because the garlic will grow slowly and the weeds will grow fast. Make sure it's weed free, fertile – where you have grown tomatoes and fed them well is excellent – but has no undecomposed organic matter which may rot and the rot will spread to the garlic.
Poke the cloves into the ground, narrow sprouty bit upwards, fatter base downwards, about a finger and a half apart, and as deep as they are long, which won't make sense possibly till you try it and you'll see what I mean.
Now wait. And wait. There will be small green tips, then bigger green tips, then long green leaves that you can snip finely and sauté till soft and eat with a poached egg or on buttered toast, or add to soup for a mild garlic flavour. Don't snip too much though or you will rob the roots, i.e. the growing garlic bulb, of nutrients and they may be spindly instead of fat and petal-like.
Garlic grows best if planted when the days are growing shorter and then maturing when the days are growing longer, ie in late spring. Some varieties are what are called 'day-length neutral' – meaning you will still get good bulbs if they are planted at other times. But I've found that even they do best planted in autumn, allowed to grow, left to wait through winter then really get eager to spring in spring.
By spring your garlic will look a bit like small leeks. You can pick these, and use them in a leek like manner. They are called 'scapes' and in poorer fed parts of the world or times in history they were an important food in hungry spring before other crops were ready. Now? They're okay but leeks are more tender, and leaving the scapes to continue growing will give you bigger better bulbs.
Wait till the leaves begin to yellow. Pull them up, brush off the dirt, hanging them up so the papery bits dry like, well, paper. Or eat straight away and give part of your harvest to happy grateful friends.
But plant now, even a square metre's worth. By the time you have harvested and eaten your own garlic in spring you will be a convert, with a lasting passion for the purple.
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