Will Stevens plucked heads of garlic apart, throwing each clove into the empty crate beside him. It was a Wednesday morning at Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham, and the day was just getting started.
“All you need is a little leverage,” he said, pulling off a particularly stubborn clove.
David, who was at the farm interviewing to work next season, was also separating cloves.
“Is that a life lesson or a garlic lesson?” he asked.
“A little of both, I guess,” said Will.
I was working here on my day off, picking up a little extra cash and some fresh vegetables. Today, Judy had informed me this morning, we were planting garlic.
Never having had any gardening experience, I hadn't realized that garlic is planted in the late fall. It goes into the ground after most of the other plants have been picked from the ground, after the first frost. The cloves put out roots immediately and then freeze into the ground for the length of the winter.
Come early spring, the garlic sends up shoots of green, and in June those shoots get cut off and show up at the farmer’s market as garlic scapes. Way back in June, my first blog post was about those funny, curled things I’d noticed at the Elmer Farm booth on a Wednesday morning. That was the beginning of the season; this was the end. The bare beds in the fields impressed upon my mind that winter really was coming.
I crawled up and down the beds, sticking the garlic cloves into the grooves plowed into each bed (they went in a finger’s width deep, a hand’s length apart, Will had explained, holding up a hand that was almost twice as large as mine). I was working with Katie, Jacob and Brad, all full-time employees on the farm, and we worked two by two, one on each side of the bed. We leapfrogged down the row, each pair laying a clove of garlic down where we had started planting.
The dirt was cool and rough, its clay slipping under my fingernails and rubbing down the skin on my fingers. The four of us kept up a cheerful conversation, and even though the time didn't exactly fly by, it passed pleasantly.
"You have to like the people you're working with," said Katie. "If they aren't fun to be around, eight hours of farm work gets really long."
But I did like them, and as the day moved along I decided I really liked planting garlic as well. It wasn't the most thought-provoking activity I'd ever done, and it was a lot of repetition. With two hours left to go, I wasn't sure if my hands would make it through until five o'clock. And I don't think I could do it for five days a week, eight hours a day. But one day of digging in the ground with my hands, looking around at mountains, trees, the shifting clouds in the sky, and smelling the dirt was a refreshing change from being indoors.
And even though the garlic-planting reminded me just how close to winter we were, it was an eminently hopeful activity. We were putting bulbs into the ground before the long, cold winter so that when the days finally grow longer again, when the air warms up and the snow melts, there will be new sprouts poking their way out of the ground.
And looking back at the five beds that we had planted, I knew that the idea of rows of fresh, green stems in the spring would help me get through the coming cold, dark days.
It'll be a while until we have fresh garlic again, but until then, there's plenty of dry garlic to go around. This is one way to cut the strong taste of the garlic and soften it so that you can eat it on toast, or make a garlic puree that you can combine with basically anything (well, not ice cream.)
1 head of garlic
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut off the top of the head so that the tips of the cloves are exposed.
Coat the garlic in olive oil and wrap with aluminum foil.
Bake for about half an hour, or more for larger heads (until the cloves are soft to the touch).
Andrea does reporting and online media for the Addison Independent. You can find her on Twitter here or see other Table Talk entries here. Feel free to weigh in on this post or suggest future topics, either in the comments section below or at andreas [at] addisonindependent.com.