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"Peace and happiness, begin, geographically, where garlic is used in cooking." Marcel Boulestin

I think I've probably done garlic before so I hope I'm not repeating myself too much. Though probably like me you will have forgotten by now.

Anyway I am writing about garlic because the two sons and their children are coming over for dinner whilst the mothers are out on a girls' night with their friends. Why didn't they have things like that when I was a mum? But I digress - of course. The garlic comes in because I am baking a slightly slow cooked leg of lamb à la Provençal, and that of course involves garlic (and tomatoes and black olives). Alas I didn't read the recipe properly until we came back from our morning shopping expedition, when I found to my shame that I needed 24 cloves of garlic - and I didn't have that many. So back to the shops I went.

These days you can buy Australian garlic, which is an absolute bonus, but alas you still cannot buy fresh garlic as you can get in France. Every time we go to France one of the first things we buy is a bunch of fresh garlic. It's soft and creamy with a thickish skin.

The Australian garlic industry has a website called Australian Garlic which has this lovely shot of fresh garlic but, as I say, I have never seen it in the shops - the fresh kind that is. Maybe at farmers' markets? I know that my orange growers are beginning to grow garlic as an extra offering for example. The website puts the current dearth of Australian garlic down to the Chinese:

"The mid-1990s brought deregulation and the importation of cheap Chinese garlic. This caused the virtual collapse of the Australian garlic industry, which has been recovering slowly over recent years." Australian

For now though I just make do with Australian dried garlic from the supermarket, and just remember the lovely stuff from France.

I simply cannot do without garlic. I have a friend who is fructose intolerant, actually three friends when I come to think of it, and they cannot eat garlic or onions or leeks. I'm not sure I could survive without them - although for most of my childhood I certainly did without garlic. It must have been before I went to France that my mother and I made that spaghetti bolognese, because we didn't know what a clove was, and if I had been to France I most certainly would have known. And I remember still the smell of garlic and gauloises (a particular kind of French cigarette), that hit you in Paris.

It is such a vital ingredient for me that when I came to write a cookbook for my sons titled 7 ingredients I cannot be without - garlic was very near the top of the list. (The others were - olive oil, the aforesaid onions, parsley, tomatoes, cream and lemons). I did a follow-up book, because of course there are more than 7 things you simply have to have to cook reasonably well. Anyway the point is that garlic is vital.

Today's recipe, as I said, calls for 24 cloves as well as the couple used to push into slits in the lamb. The recipe actually puts the cloves, in their skins in the dish singly, but I am considering just cutting a whole bulb in half and putting that in with the tomatoes and lamb. That's what you do when roasting garlic these days after all. It's very trendy. Then when you have finished cooking you squeeze out the garlic, which has somehow become less garlicky by then, into the juices in the pan. The recipe doesn't say to squeeze out the garlic, but surely you would? I'm going to anyway. Then we can all go home reeking of garlic. Well my family can go home, we shall, of course, still be here.

Which just gave me one more memory. Many years ago when the children were around 5 or 6 years old, David went out for a business dinner to Vlado's - a restaurant famed for its steak. He had started with a kind of sausage I think upon which were scattered little white bits which I think he thought was onion. Anyway when he came home I smelt him before I saw him. It was unbelievably overpowering. The smell lingered for days in his car, so much so that our two small boys were led to ask him what the weird smell was. So I guess you have to be careful. But that was raw garlic, which is much more potent than garlic that has been roasting for a couple of hours.

"Do not eat garlic or onions; for their smell will reveal that you are a peasant." Miguel de Cervantes

Indeed for centuries it was not something that the aristocrats ate, even though it was supposed to deter vampires and suchlike. There is a legend that when the Devil left the Garden of Eden, having achieved his dastardly aim of getting Eve to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge, garlic sprang from his left foot and onions from his right. And this old botanical drawing somehow has a devilish look about it don't you think? Nevertheless in spite of its evil associations it was used medicinally and indeed it is still thought to be good for you:

"Not only does garlic smell heavenly as it fries, bakes or roast, not only does it add aroma and warmth to our cooking; not only does it turn the simplest piece of meat or vegetable into something quite sublime but it is actually doing me good. The 'food police' inform me that garlic can help lower blood cholesterol, contains sulphides that are thought to help prevent cancers, and can prevent my blood clotting. What more could I ask?" Nigel Slater

You could fill a book - and I'm sure many have - with recipes that use garlic - so I won't do that here. Suffice to say that I use it on a daily basis - most often in my salad dressing, but in many, many other ways too. You can barely make a curry without it although I believe in Kashmir they do not use garlic - it is considered bad for some reason. Perhaps one of my favourite ways of using it, although often just for a special treat is garlic bread. Such a simple thing, but so tasty. Children love it, and so do we all. Even my husband who sort of pretends not to like it. It's a good way of refreshing slightly stale baguettes too. Lots of parsley, lots of butter and lots of garlic mashed together and lavishly spread on the sliced bread, before wrapping foil and heating in the oven.. Nigel Slater adds Parmesan to the mix, but I don't really think it's necessary.

Because I loved that fresh garlic, I tried growing it myself once. I had read that you just stick a clove in the ground and it grows. And it did, but the bulb didn't separate into cloves. It was still garlic, but each bulb consisted of just one clove as it were - at the most two. But I have now discovered why. For the garlic to separate into cloves it has to have at least some of the growing season in the cold - below 10ºC. I must have planted it too late for this. But never mind - apparently these large cloves/bulbs are becoming trendy:

"Without the trigger to split their resources into producing numerous small offsets, all the plants’ energies go to creating one single massive garlic clove. Imagine a large shallot that is wall-to-wall garlic when sliced into. In fact, these very cloves are often sold at premium prices as Himalayan single clove, snow, pearl or Kashmiri garlic in fancy supermarkets. It’s amazing what a bit of marketing can do, isn’t it?" James Wong - The Guardian

Mind you I don't think that particular trend has reached here. Anyway, now that I understand the problem I might give it another go and not worry if it only has one clove. That way I would get that lovely fresh garlic. It's a good companion plant too - apparently it keeps away the aphids - not to mention the vampires.


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