“Humans have been eating garlic for least 5,000 years. Three of the world’s oldest known recipes, written in cuneiform (wedge-shaped marks) on clay tablets, include garlic.”
WHAT: Garlic is the Lord Byron of produce, a lusty rogue that charms and seduces you but runs off before dawn, leaving a bad taste in your mouth. Called everything from rustic cure-all to Russian penicillin, Bronx vanilla and Italian perfume, garlic has been loved, worshipped, and despised throughout history. No writer has quite captured the epic, roving story of garlic—until now.
While this book does not claim that garlic saved civilization (though it might cure whatever ails you), it does take us on a grand tour of its fascinating role in history, medicine, literature, and art; its controversial role in bigotry, mythology, and superstition; and its indispensable contribution to the great cuisines of the world. And just to make sure your appetite isn’t slighted, Garlic offers over 100 recipes featuring the beloved ingredient.
WHO: Robin Cherry is a Cleveland-raised, Hudson Valley-based writer with a passion for Eastern Europe, undiscovered wine regions, and garlic. She has written for many publications including National Geographic Traveler, Afar, The Atlantic,and Wine Enthusiast. She is the author of Catalog: The History of Mail Order Shopping and Garlic: An Edible Biography: The History, Politics, and Mythology behind the World’s Most Pungent Food. After majoring in Russian history at Carleton College, she almost joined the CIA but she can’t keep a secret.
Initially, I was intrigued by how pervasive garlic was throughout history then I became fascinated by the dark side of garlic — how it was used to discriminate against Jews, Italians, and Koreans. My father was Jewish and the fact that Nazis issued buttons with pictures of garlic bulbs so wearers could broadcast their antisemitism staggered me. I was also intrigued by how many dictators liked garlic (largely because of where they grew up) — Stalin, Mussolini, and Slobodan Milosevic all loved garlic. When Milosevic was in prison, he felt a pain in his chest and asked his fellow inmate for a head of garlic as garlic is regarded as a natural healer in Serbia. Somewhat improbably, the inmate got the garlic but to no avail. Milosevic died the next morning.
How long have humans been eating garlic?
Humans have been eating garlic for least 5,000 years. Three of the world’s oldest known recipes, written in cuneiform (wedge-shaped marks) on clay tablets, include garlic.
Do any animals eat garlic?
I’ve read different things on this so I can’t answer definitively. Most people say garlic is toxic for dogs and cats; some say it isn’t. Most animals don’t seem to appreciate garlic’s many positive properties — leaving more for us.
Have you ever grown your own garlic? What are your top tips?
I have. The best advice I got (and ignored) is grow garlic that’s suited to your climate. I tried to grow a Creole variety in upstate New York and it was too cold. Since you grow garlic from individual cloves, pick the biggest, fattest ones you have. Buy good quality organic garlic from a professional grower; don’t try to grow grocery store garlic as it has often been treated to prevent sprouting. Plant garlic in the fall so the roots can form before the ground freezes and if growing hardneck garlic, cut off the scapes after they reach about ten inches long so the plant’s energy will go to increasing the size of the bulb. (Garlic scapes make a great, mild pesto). Most importantly, don’t be intimidated. Garlic is pretty forgiving and easy to grow.
There are many heirloom varieties of garlic. Which are your top 3?
I love hot food so I go for spicy varieties like Georgian Fire, and Pennsylvania Dutch (plus my grandmother was Pennsylvania Dutch). I also like Music — probably the most popular variety as it has good flavor, keeps well and its cloves are large and easy to peel. (Music isn’t named for its beauty — it’s named for Al Music, a Canadian garlic grower.)
You’ve ended up running the kitchen of an especially bad-tempered, omnipotent, but garlic-loving autocrat. They’ve ordered you to cook them garlic for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What’s on each menu?
Great question. For breakfast, I’d prepare garlic bread avocado toast topped with a fried egg and garlic tea with honey and lemon.
For lunch, I’d make a steak sandwich with arugula, provolone cheese, and a garlic aioli served with curly garlic fries and garlic lemonade.
For dinner, I’d prepare Stalin’s favorite dish, Chicken Satsivi — chicken in a rich walnut-garlic sauce from his native Georgia and a strong martini garnished with garlic-stuffed olives so he’d nod off and I could get some rest.
What’s the one garlic accessory that no kitchen should be without?
A chef’s knife and/or a microplane rasp. You don’t need any fancy gadgets and most chefs hate garlic presses as they say they bruise the garlic and make it bitter. Anthony Bourdain even said, “I don’t know what that junk is that squeezes out the end of those things, but it ain’t garlic.”
What’s the biggest thing happening in garlic right now?
I think the biggest thing happening in garlic right now is Fermented Garlic Honey which is quite popular. To make it, pour raw honey over lightly crushed garlic cloves in a jar — crushing the garlic will create allicin which helps in the fermentation. Seal the jar and leave it at room temperature for three days. After that, remove the lid and stir the garlic and let it ferment for at least a week (stirring every other day). The mixture can ferment for a month or longer and will become sweeter and mellower over time. Fermented Garlic Honey can be used in marinades, vinaigrettes, and sauces — and some swear that it’s great on pizza — or as an immunity booster during cold and flu season.
What variety of garlic do you think makes the best black garlic?
It doesn’t matter as they all taste the same — delicious — after they’ve been cooked at a low temperature for two to three weeks.
What are you currently working on?
A children’s travel book series that features my young niece, Eden. I’ve been lucky to travel to over 100 countries and the series will feature the places I’ve visited as if seen through her eyes. I’m still trying to come up with a new micro history idea so any suggestions are welcome!