The Milkweed Diaries

Sunday, July 19, 2009

On Preserving Garlic...Featuring Pickled Garlic Two Ways

Garlic was the first food crop that we planted here on our land. We planted garlic before we had even a temporary place to live here, and it is without question the backbone of our kitchen and garden.

We harvested over 1,400 heads of garlic this year. We grew 13 heirloom varieties with a range of subtle taste differences and growth habits, planted in the fall for a mid-June to early July harvest.

We started out with seed garlic from Filaree Farm and have been saving garlic for seed from varieties that we like and that do well here, gradually selecting to create strains more and more well-suited to growing in this particular spot as we continue to save seed over the years.

Much of this year's garlic bounty will be saved for next year's seed; some will be sold to local restaurants; some will be sold, traded, or given to friends and family; and a large amount will be eaten right here in our home.

Christopher cured all of the garlic that we grew by hanging it to dry under a porch roof for 2-4 weeks (the time varies based on variety of garlic and weather conditions). He's recently been spending evenings processing cured garlic, cutting off tops and roots and sorting for storage, seed, and sale.

Curing garlic by drying it immediately after harvesting yields the dry heads of garlic that are the way most of us buy garlic at the grocery store. The majority of our garlic will be stored that way. Stored in a cool place with low humidity and good air flow, dried heads of garlic can keep for up to six months, depending on the variety of garlic. But we found this year that there comes a point in when the dry garlic from summer's harvest, even stored under the best conditions, has reached its maximum shelf life.

Plus, some of the garlic that we harvested is not pretty or perfect enough for selling, saving for seed, or storing whole. Particularly if the heads are not tight or the cloves are starting to separate or there is any sort of damage to the skin, garlic will be less likely to hold up in storage.

So we are finding ways to preserve garlic for use in our kitchen throughout the year. Pickling is an easy and tasty way to eat homegrown garlic year-round. And besides: pickled garlic just plain tastes good.

So here are two super-delicious ways to enjoy pickled garlic.

These two preparations have a different enough taste from one another that they are both worth trying, especially if you have an enormous amount of garlic to preserve, as we do.

Pickled garlic is great as a substitute for fresh garlic in prepared dishes (though it adds a totally different flavor) but my favorite way to eat it to pop a whole crunchy, sour clove in my mouth...mmm!

Pickled Garlic
The old fashioned brine-pickled way

(modified from Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation)

  • 2-4 cup garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup salt dissolved in 1 quart of water
  • 1 Tbs. black peppercorns
  • 1 gallon ceramic crock
  • Small plate that just fits inside the crock
  1. Peel the garlic and rinse.
  2. Sprinkle the bottom of the crock with the peppercorns, and fill with garlic cloves.
  3. Make the brine by combining 3/8 cup salt with 1 quart of water, and pour the brine into the crock over the cloves, making sure the garlic is submerged.
  4. Place the plate on top of the top layer of garlic and weigh down with something heavy (I use a clean mason jar full of water). Make sure you don't have any floaters.
  5. Cover with a cloth and allow to ferment for as long as you like. I recommend at least a month.
When the garlic reaches your desired taste, you can pack the cloves into jars, refrigerate and use as you like. Brine-pickled garlic should keep almost indefinitely.

Pickled Garlic
The newfangled vinegar/heat-processed way

(modified from a recipe found in the Rodale Food Center's book Preserving Summer's Bounty)

  • 2 cup garlic cloves
  • 3 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 4 Tbs pickling spices (make your own blend or buy it pre-mixed)
  • 4 pint jars with self-sealing lids
  • Saucepan
  • Canning pot big enough to fully submerge filled jars
  1. Peel the garlic and blanch for 30 seconds. Drain.
  2. In an enamel or stainless steal saucepan, bring the vinegar and pickling spices to a boil.
  3. Pack the cloves into sterilized jars.
  4. Pour the hot liquid over the cloves, leaving 1/2 inch of headroom.
  5. Seal and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Jars stored in a cool place out of direct light should keep for months or even years, and can be cracked open for garlicky goodness at any time. After opening a jar, you should refrigerate it-- that is, if there are any cloves left after you chow down on the crunchy sour taste explosion of pickled garlic!

For more info on growing garlic:

Ron Engeland's Growing Great Garlic is an excellent resource for the finer points of not only growing but curing, handling, and storing garlic. This book has been our most useful garlic growing reference, and is well worth keeping around if you are going to grow any quantity of garlic.


pemcus said...

Question: If you use the older method of brine for preserving, how do you store it once it is "done"? In the refrig? then you are using energy for that instead of canning and storing on a shelf.

Milkweed said...

Good point, pemcus!

In the "olden days" people kept brine-preserved pickles in root cellars, and nowadays they can be kept out on the counter in a crock fermenting for quite a long time, just pulling pickles out to eat as needed.

I do refrigerate some of my brine pickles after they reach a certain point, so perhaps the "foodprint" is a wash.