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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Everything’s Coming Up Stinking Roses

A passion for garlic? You’re among friends here

 

By B.A. Nilsson

If you see me in my yard working the tiller in the next few days, this is why: I’m preparing the soil to plant a fascinating crop that has the honor of being the first to push through in the spring, and which will reward me not only with pungent garlic cloves but with one of the most delightful early-season vegetables—garlic scapes—something I’d take over asparagus any time.

I got a bag of seed garlic and a motivational kick in the ass last weekend at the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, a two-day celebration held in Saugerties that attracts patrons and participants from around the country. In addition to lectures and cooking demonstrations, this year’s event featured 56 growers, 73 business vendors, 80 artisans and 35 food booths, as well as five music and entertainment stages.

The Garlic Goddess moved, sylphlike, through the festival, a circlet of garlic woven into her hair. She’s Pat Reppert of Shale Hill Farm and Herb Garden, the woman who organized the first festival here in 1989. It was held at her farm and attracted about a hundred people who were drawn by word of mouth and her farm’s newsletter. A year later, attendance quadrupled.

By 1992, she knew she needed a bigger venue, and with sponsorship from the Saugerties Kiwanis Club, the festival was moved to Cantine Field. The expected attendance of 2,500 turned into 5,000, despite some rain. A year later, attendance rose to 13,000. When the number rose to over 40,000 in 1995 (with traffic backed up to the thruway), the festival expanded to two days.

It won a special honor in 2002 when USA Today named it one of the Top Ten Regional Food Festivals in the country.

The food at the festival is abundant, and most of it is, naturally, garlic-related. The scene looked like any carnival midway, as people gnawed drippy blooming onions, fat Kaiser rolls of sausage and peppers, pizza and, of course, ice cream. (I suggest you resist sampling the garlic ice cream, though, until later in the day, when your palate will be prepared.)

“Hot garlic! Hot garlic!” shouted Bob Nogash, brandishing a braid before the Gillie Farms booth. He grows in Memphis, west of Syracuse, and notes that his garlic, which truly is spicy, gets its flavor from a combination of well-chosen soil and seed.

Syracuse’s Antolini Plantation has been selling garlic, onions and shallots at the festival for nearly 20 years. He and Nick Delforte of Garlic by Del-40, who’s near Canandaigua, agree it’s worth the trip. “I sell my garlic through Miller’s Seed Catalogue,” Delforte says, “and I shipped out 300 pounds of German White three weeks ago. They just asked if I had another 200 pounds and I told them ‘nope’ because I wanted something to bring here.”

Free Bird Farm of Palatine Bridge is a purveyor of natural poultry to hipper area restaurants, but the folks there also grow their own garlic. They had a nice crop of Spanish Roja in their booth. “We move a lot of garlic here,” says Ken Fruehstorfer, “and we can get a good price.”

If you’ve spent any time at the cheese counter of Albany’s Honest Weight Food Co-op, you’ve sampled BuddhaPesto, a splendid version of an age-old garlic favorite: a mixture of basil and pine nuts, olive oil and cheese that decorates pasta so nicely.

“It’s all we make, so it has to be good,” says Maria Gandara, who runs the Woodstock-based business with Gregor Trieste. “It’s certainly not the world’s cheapest pesto, but I use the best possible ingredients and have a duty to keep the quality high.” Flavor samples flew off the tables and tote bags filled with the colorful BuddhaPesto containers.

Seasoned attendees carry a shopping list and patronize the same vendors year after year. This could include Swarmbustin’ Honey, from Chatham, Pa., which offers a garlic-infused honey; Vinnie’s Farm Market in Saugerties, which makes garlic spread and garlic jelly; or Manny’s Pit Bull Hot Sauce from Long Island, which sells an array of fiery sauces with garlicky flavors.

Suffering a measure of garlic fatigue, I chatted with Bob Dunkel, Press Editor of the Garlic Seed Foundation (garlicseedfound ation.info), which serves as a clearinghouse for growers and consumers.

He said, “a few of us who were growing garlic in the area [around Rome, N.Y.] got together for potluck suppers from time to time and discovered that we had a wealth of knowledge among us.” This gave rise to a newsletter, and soon Cornell Cooperative Extension went to them for advice. “All of the garlic information back then was coming out of India and Pakistan.” The GSF now has published several garlic-centric books in addition to the ongoing newsletter, and continues to bring members together to share knowledge and resources. “We have members in all 50 states as well as Europe,” Dunkel said proudly.

So, what do you do with all this garlic? For starters, learn to chop it as deftly as Ric Orlando does. The telegenic chef-owner of Saugerties-based restaurant New World Home Cooking Co. offered a lecture-demonstration in which he prepared a pair of Mediterranean dishes that contrasted garlic in its raw and cooked forms. First, there was a puttanesca fresca sauce that began with a handful of lustrous white cloves rendered with machinelike speed into a minced, aromatic pile. Combined with olives, capers, tomatoes, parsley and enough anchovies to provoke moans of dismay from the audience, it burst with a spicy darkness: sweet, acidic and very much umami, that palate-sparking flavor we once got from MSG.

“Roman Brunch” is the name Orlando gives to a hot garlic-and-oil sauce. Its flavor is a result of slowly cooking garlic slivers until they’re golden and impart a richness that’s more about caramel than spice.

“I’ve been doing demos here for 10, maybe 11 years,” Orlando says, “and we usually have a booth here, too, but this year the restaurant had too many parties, which is probably a good thing for the people who’ve had the booth next to us. Our blackened string beans are a huge favorite, but they stink up the place even more than garlic.”

Back at the grower’s area, we finished our trip with a visit to Stan Erkson’s booth. His passion lies not only in the cultivation of garlic, which he does at Alpha Garlic Farm in Fort Plain, but in encouraging others to grow it as well. Or, nearly as well. This would seem to be a lousy marketing strategy if you’re selling the stuff, but, like so many others I met here, he’s part of a community of enthusiasts eager to draw others into that community.

He sold us a four-pound bag of German White, the easiest variety for a beginner to grow. We discussed our soil and how it should be tilled, mulched, and weeded constantly. Don’t run that rototiller too deep between the rows, he insisted, or it will take out the garlic roots.

He promised that we’ll greet spring with our own rows of this pungent crop. We promised to return next September to show off the results.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

We’re in the midst of a weeklong self-guided Garden of Eating driving tour of some of the best independent local farms and restaurants in Albany, Rensselaer and Columbia counties. Through this Sunday (Sept. 21), you’re invited to follow a trail of artisan cheese, vegetables and fruit, meat, bread, wine, beer and many specialty dishes. Also, take advantage of the chance to pick your own produce and shop at country stores for an array of honey, maple syrup, baked goods and more. Full information, with farm and restaurant listings, maps, suggested itineraries and even lodging suggestions, are at gardenofeatingtour.com. . . . Ever sample garlic cotton candy? The annual Hudson Valley Garlic Festival takes place at Cantine Field in Saugerties on Sept. 27 from 10-6 and Sept. 28 from 10-5. It’s a nonstop party of lectures, workshops, music, entertainment and plenty of pungent food. Learn the secrets of growing great garlic from Rose Valley Farms’ David Stern, sample Ric Orlando’s pan-blackened string beans and roasted-garlic bread pudding, dance to the Zydeco Moshers, and make yourself unsuitable for the company of any but fellow stinking-rose enthusiasts. USA Today named this one of the top 10 regional food festivals in the country. Tickets are $7 at the door. You can get schedules and more info at hvgf.org. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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