Steven Slosberg: Cold bath for garlic is a summer ritual

Steven Slosberg: Cold bath for garlic is a summer ritual


Garlic from this year's harvest, hanging in the drying barn. | Steven Slosberg, special to The Sun

Heat relief, however brief, came the other week, as it does most every equatorial summer, in a cold bath of garlic.

Muddy, sloppy and chilled from the outdoor tap, it is the swill of the season into which I plunge myself, belly first and elbow deep, delighted by the baptismal ritual, but refreshed only temporarily because when the garlic is ripe for plucking, the sun is unabashedly sovereign.

At our place, garlic is out in the backyard production beds, where drainage is good. The garlic harvest is the opening passage of the salsa season.

The vegetable beds, nursery for the hot peppers, onions and tomatoes, among all those other elongated, leafy and green and yellow and orangey crops, share the terrain with the 4-foot by 12-foot garlic bed, rotated annually among the other 4-foot by 12-foot beds.

The garlic harvest, once an August chore, has been climatically changed, or re-rooted, to mid-July. Onions, tomatoes and hot peppers, with any luck, after the deluge conditions of spring and early summer, will follow.

Harvesting the garlic is first. The red onions have been turning up for a couple of weeks, and the tomatoes, I’ve come to trust, are on the way, but the peppers, alas, are still iffy. In summers of drought, the habaneros are supreme, as are the grapes in our modest arbor, but this soggy season doesn’t appear to be the year for the hots. Several weeks before uprooting the garlic, the scallion-like scapes were dutifully extracted to ensure the bulbs are as robust as possible. Those scapes sauté nicely, and lend themselves to a rich pesto, as well.

In the swelter of a mid-July afternoon or evening, and this July was as toasty as any, I position the vintage wheelbarrow under the grape arbor, extend the hose from the spigot outside the cellar and fill the tub of the wheelbarrow with gallon upon gallon upon gallon of clear, cold water. As the water runs, I begin nudging the garlic from their beds. I should use a pitchfork to loosen the soil, but a hefty tug at the base of the stalk seems to be all the coaxing the garlic needs. In my wife’s garden schematic, one full bed is devoted to garlic, and pockets of the beauties are scattered in a few others.

With both hands full of shiny, tight, rounded, fleshy, pink cloves and foot-long, neck-like stalks, I return to the wheelbarrow and immerse the booty in the water. This routine is repeated maybe a half-dozen times until the tub is brimming with stalks, and the water rife with garden detritus. It’s time to clean the garlic.

Scalp, face and upper torso drenched from the heat, the initial plunge is divine. The chore is gently washing the cloves and roots free of soil and then arranging them on the grass to dry. Arms in the water, senses concentrated on the job, clothing soggy with water and mud, the soul is freed from cares about the suffocating heat. After the cloves are cleaned and set out, silvery white, to bake in the sun, the wheelbarrow, rich in soil and water, is waddled over to the nearest flower bed and upturned, sometimes even carefully so whatever is growing there is not flattened as if in the path of a burst dam.

This was another productive year for garlic, so the uprooting and cleansing in the wheelbarrow was repeated a few times, always with a fresh pool of cold water. It is delicious.

I happily concede to be merely a consumer of garlic, and do not pretend, nor is such trespass sanctioned, to know how to pick the seed cloves for next year, or the varieties to be planted. I know my place, which is hovering over the wheelbarrow and its bath.

Some of the garlic is gifted and the rest, an ample supply, stowed for our culinary needs during the year. But, again, August brings the promise of salsa, and, amid the bounty of garlic, onions and peppers and the arrival of the tomatoes, I’m ready for the chopping block.

Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and was a longtime reporter and columnist for The Day in New London. He may be reached at:

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