13 Oct 2010
I've just popped a casserole in the oven - a piece of pork belly nestled among carrots, onion, garlic, turnip, parsnips and with sage going in later. (Trying out Heston Blumenthal's recipe of the week for Waitrose.) Bathed in home-made chicken stock (Prue Leith's recipe), it should be beautifully cooked by dinner time and all that will be needed is to mash the vegetables, fry off the meat and serve up with the crackling which is being slowly roasted in the oven alongside the casserole.
It gives me huge satisfaction to know that all the vegetables and herbs in this dish (bar the turnip) have been home-grown and, for me, the wonder veg is garlic. I planted a few cloves of ordinary garlic last November along with the onion sets, partly out of curiousity and partly because I wanted to have something growing over the winter.
I say "I" planted but, actually, the cloves were planted by the Veg Patch Kids, my part being to show the children how to measure the planting distance and dibble the holes (we used the handle of an old wooden spoon, marked to the correct depth) and which way up to pop the cloves in. I'm probably more amazed than they are that a single clove becomes a whole new garlic. Even more amazing, I've read that home-grown garlic cloves will adapt year on year to produce the best bulbs. So I've saved a few of my heroes to go back into the ground later this month.
I assume that everybody grows garlic - it's really not hard - but what I found interesting was the little experiment that I ran. Ever one to fly in the face of good advice, having been told not to plant supermarket garlic, of course I then had to. The original bulbs were, I believe, from Spain – they're the big whoppers in the picture. They were already showing 6 inches of growth when the January snows fell and came through that beautifully. Then, in late April, the Gardening Guru gave me a few more garlic bulbs to sow - Isle of Wight and T&M Choice. They'd just been delivered to him by Thompsons which I thought was a bit late as they need a good frost to start them off. I planted them anyway - some under the plum trees, some between the beetroot (probably not my best idea of the season). The plum tree garlic should really have been watered more regularly and the beetroot garlic was overshadowed in the summer months. A selection of the results are in the photo below, with the clear winner being my Spanish supermarket garlic which grew to be about 2 inch diameter with well-formed tasty cloves. (But then it did have the benefit of being grown for 5 months longer than the others.)
Will I do it again this year? Yes, absolutely. In fact, I've already selected some Porcelain Garlic which hails from the Highlands of Scotland (via Waitrose) and will plant those alongside my London/Spanish cloves - but will also be choosing some commercial bulbs to pitch against them for comparison.
P.S. I'm sure you all know of the massively diverse health benefits of eating garlic but did you know that recent research from the University of East London reveals that garlic may be effective against the superbug MRSA?