It’s the longest day of the Australian year (tomorrow is Christmas Day) and so I’m harvesting the garlic that I planted out six months ago around the shortest day, in late May and early June.
By this time of year, the garlic tops have died back and disappeared into the yellow background of the barley-straw mulch, so it’s now that I’m grateful that I planted them in straight lines, as they are all but invisible from the surface.
To avoid damaging the garlic bulbs, I hoe under the depth at which the bulbs have been grown, and use the hoe to lift and break up the surface (as for potato harvesting) and to expose the garlic. Picking through the clods is easy in these friable soils; one need only toss one’s findings into the tub, which gets dragged down the row after the gardener. The tub has holes in the bottom, as I will use a high-pressure nozzle to wash the dirt off the harvest and back onto the garden.
Up at the house, the cook’s eager to view the crop and start pickling some of the better cloves. Pickled garlic is placed in the cellar, and outlasts even those bulbs plaited and hung to dry in a cool dark part of the house. The taste changes slightly, but the goodness is preserved and pickled garlic adds a certain piquancy to late winter dishes when the price of garlic at the market has gone through the roof.
The garlic variety we like best is called ‘Monaro Purple’ as it has large bulbs that separate easily into tasty cloves. There are other varieties in other beds – yet to be harvested – but these are the pickling ones, so they come out early before the cook is overwhelmed by the Christmas turkey and biscuit-baking.
The gardener’s job doesn’t end with the harvest; garlic cloves get broken apart and ‘shelled’ of the light purple skin, then dropped into waiting glass jars. I guess this is where some folks would don gloves, as the scent of garlic stays on the skin for days. There seems little point in my doing this however, as my hands will be back in the soil to finish the job, and that should effectively cleanse away the pong.
And the cook’s recipe for pickling garlic?
Add 16 grams of sea salt to a litre of boiling water, stir then let cool to room temperature. Pour this salty water over the garlic in the jar to within an inch (25 mm) of the surface then place raspberry, grapevine or horseradish leaves on the garlic cloves and push down to sink the lot below the surface of the water. Add whey or ‘culture starter’ to kick off the bacteria that drive the fermentation process. Add glass marbles to keep the lot weighed down. Close the lid tightly and leave around on a shelf out of the sun until bubbling ends after a few weeks to indicate that fermentation is complete. Store in the cellar or a cool dark spot. Once opened, keep the jar in the fridge.