Garlic Sorting Time
Updated: Mar 24, 2021
While this year’s crop of garlic is already knee-high in the garden, there are always a few braids left over from last summer’s harvest. Each fall, the seed garlic goes into the ground around Thanksgiving—early enough that the roots can grow before the ground freezes solid, yet late enough that the top growth won’t poke above the soil and get frozen off. They will be harvested in July, under the brilliance of the summer sun.
As we have selected the best of the garlic seed year after year, the crop has gotten steadily better with virtually no disease and reliable production. One unexpected benefit of this garlic strain which has adapted to our growing environment is that it keeps a little longer each year. The first year there was still snow on the ground when garlic sorting time came. I huddled in the greenhouse and dumped my discarded garlic papers into a bucket. This year we knew the cloves were sprouting—as we always do—by the aroma of intense garlic coming from the braids. As the cloves begin to sprout and then soften and shrivel, the rich garlic scent becomes more and more pungent until walking in the back door makes you feel as if you’ve just stepped off the street into an Italian bistro. Then I know it’s garlic sorting time.
The June light was shining down with the kind of warmth it does two days before the summer solstice, so I found a shady spot on the back porch. The braids have been hanging in the cool, dry sunroom since last summer, and I gathered them all in a bundle to sort through outside. This process sends garlic papers flying everywhere, but with a fresh breeze blowing, the debris sifted away and scattered over the porch and ground like fallen petals.
I broke the heads off each braid one at a time, running my thumbs over each clove. As they age, they shrink and become soft within their wrappers, and a gentle squeeze between my fingers told me whether they should be kept or discarded. The cloves that were still firm collected in a bowl between my feet, hitting the earthenware sides with a steady clink. Discarded cloves, papers, and braids scattered around the steps and blew away.
I spent an hour or two working through the braids—a pleasant task on a beautiful day. I could hear the cockerels-who-ought-to-be-pullets competing with one another in a crowing contest across the road. When I was finished I had more than a bowl full of cloves that are still worth saving. The cloves that are still firm will be used in cooking while they last or minced and dehydrated for the future.