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The article below, by Rona Roberts, appeared in Nougat Magazine's November, 2006 issues, which was devoted to the theme of thanksgiving. ***

As you carve your turkey or Tofurky on Thanksgiving Day, your first thought may not be about garlic. I'm here to change that.

I have seen the scary movies about family meltdowns at the Thanksgiving table, but most Thanksgiving Days in my lucky life run closer to the ideal. I am snug and warm. My house smells spectacular. The day proceeds at a tranquil pace, filled with cooking and eating great food, delighting in loved ones.

The underlying themes are closure, completion. The growing season has ended. Whether the year was too wet, too dry, or just right, the harvest is finished, and the abundance calls for gratitude. I know I am among the earth's most fortunate people, and I feel thankful.

Several years ago I learned about the garlic growing season. Plant around Halloween, harvest by the Fourth of July. I thought that was mildly interesting, and considered trying to grow some garlic myself. I never have, though. By late October, when the Bluegrass takes on its spare winter elegance, our small urban garden rests quietly, not just in our yard, but in my mind as well. It is hard to imagine planting in that cold earth.

Now that I know Jean Pitches Keene and Leo Keene, I find garlic's planting cycle and growing season more compelling. This year when I count my Thanksgiving blessings, I will include the 50,000 garlic cloves Leo and Jean plant by hand in early winter, jump-starting next year's growing season before most of us have finished celebrating this year's plenty.

Even more, I will be grateful for Jean and Leo themselves, knowing they may be outside planting garlic as I am buttering my homemade roll. Jean says, "There are many years when we've worked on Thanksgiving Day, trying to get planted before bad weather."

Leo and Jean bought Blue Moon Farm in Madison County in 1988. Ten years later they joined the Lexington Farmers Market and now sell sustainably grown organic garlic there, along with other vegetables, herbs, flowers, Kenny's Country cheeses, breads, and other good foods. Leo says the 2006 garlic crop topped 5,000 pounds.

Blue Moon's many different varieties of garlic sound like an international incident: German White, Polish Jenn, Polish White, Chinese Hardneck, Killarney Red, Russian Red Toch, California Early, Lorz Italian, Oregon Blue, French Red, Sicilian. Plus Machasi, Silverskin, Inchelium, and, to encourage international harmony, Music. Leo and Jean enjoy introducing customers to each garlic variety's personality, its strength of character (or at least of taste), and its qualities as a keeper.

The work of growing food sustainably begins long before planting. Blue Moon's website tells a little about how Leo and Jean nurture the soil that nurtures their garlic: "A cover of winter rye is sowed the autumn preceding rotation of patch into garlic production. We then grow 2 successions of buckwheat, turned under just as it flowers, as green manure."

The work of fertilizing with organic chicken compost pellets, cultivating, harvesting, cleaning, marketing, selling, and keeping records is yet to come. The Keenes can do all those things properly and still not succeed. Nothing guarantees that rain, sun, and temperature will cooperate so I can buy a head of beautiful Blue Moon garlic to cook in the pot with my mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving.

Given that growing garlic offers the certainty of hard work and uncertainty that the work will succeed, I cannot imagine how Leo and Jean find the commitment and energy to carry on. I can only be thankful that they do.

Blue Moon sells its great organic garlic in many forms:

  • Late spring: Mild, whole young plants
  • Early summer: Tender, long (12"- 24") bloom stalks called "scapes"
  • June: Nearly mature "soft skin" garlic
  • Early July - October: Whole, mature garlic heads
  • Other garlic products available during the year: Garlic powder, smoked garlic powder, pasta with garlic and other herbs and seasonings, garlic flat bread, and a bracing fresh garlic scape pesto

Garlic Resources

  • From April through October each year, Blue Moon sells garlic at the Lexington Farmers Market on Saturdays (Vine Street) and Sundays (Hamburg)
  • Buy fresh garlic online, read many interesting details of garlic cultivation and harvesting, and get a recipe for cranberry sauce that uses garlic
  • Hate peeling the cloves? This simple garlic peeler works ($6.75 plus shipping)

__________

After the article deadline, Lo Manuel, one of Nougat's editors, sent a note in praise of the Pampered Chef's no-peel garlic press: "I wanted to share with you the most awesome garlic press ever. I bought one from Pampered Chef a few years ago, mainly as a favor to a friend who was selling PC. It turned out to be the best garlic press I've ever owned. Five years old and still going strong, it's really neat because you just pop the garlic clove in, press it through, and then pull out the peel. No peeling before pressing! I hate peeling garlic. Every other garlic press I've ever had has given up the ghost -- some have lasted as long as a year, others have fallen apart the same day I bought them. Not this one. It's cast metal and works terrific."

Read more Nougat articles by Rona.

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