Coming Home to Garlic

Natasha Edwards could well be the perfect person to write a book about garlic. She grew up on Mersley Farm on the Isle of Wight, where her father first planted garlic in the late 1970’s and later developed a 60-acre commercial garlic farm, which produces more than 20 varieties of the “stinking rose.”  After graduating with a degree in Economics and Management from University College, University of Oxford, and living abroad for a decade, Natasha has returned to the family business with her young family.

We recently caught up with her to ask a few questions about her new book, Garlic – The Mighty Bulb.


OLDWAYS: You explain in your book that the commercial varieties of garlic sold in most supermarkets produce small bulbs with mediocre flavor, so it’s important to grow your own or shop at farmers markets.  For people who must rely on what the supermarket sells, can you offer some tips for coaxing the most flavor from those small bulbs?
NATASHA: Garlic’s flavor can vary immensely depending on how it is prepared and cooked. This is due to the chemistry of the clove itself. When a garlic clove is crushed or damaged in some way, the chemical compounds and enzymes inside the clove react, producing a substance called allicin, which is responsible in a large part for garlic’s smell and powerful flavors. With this in mind, you can create different flavors by preparing garlic in different ways. By completely crushing the clove, you allow the maximum reaction between the components of the clove, so maximum allicin will be created, resulting in the strongest and hottest flavors. By chopping or slicing, less allicin will be created, and by cooking or roasting cloves whole there will be no allicin created but other sweeter flavors will appear.

OLDWAYS: Cooks seem to be divided into two camps concerning the green sprout that often appears in garlic cloves: Some advise removing it; some say it makes no difference in the taste of a dish. What’s your opinion?
NATASHA: While I don’t think the taste is hugely impaired if you crush and cook the garlic with the green sprout, I would remove it if you are to use the garlic raw. Some people find it can give digestion problems, although I’ve never experienced this myself.

OLDWAYS:  You mention in the book that you have tried many different methods for roasting garlic. Can you share some of your insights into what works best and why, explain your favorite method, and give some tips for serving whole roasted garlic?
NATASHA: I’ve tried everything from just placing the whole bulb uncovered in the oven to roasting in a clay pot. I’ve also varied the amount of time and temperature. In the end, all the methods produce an edible result but my favorite, which also happens to be very simple, is to brush the outside of the bulb in a small amount of olive oil then loosely wrap in foil and roast in the oven at 180C/350° F for one hour. Remove from the oven, unwrap the foil, and roast for a further ten minutes uncovered. I love to serve a whole bulb per person alongside roasted meats, allowing my guests to squeeze out the flesh of the cloves for themselves. You can also squeeze out the cloves and whisk into sauces or gravy to add sweet caramelized garlic flavors.

OLDWAYS:  You write about garlic’s amazing versatility as an ingredient. Have you ever heard of it being used in a dessert?
NATASHA: Yes. In fact, we do sell a garlic flavored ice cream at our farm shop. It isn’t as bad as it sounds! One popular UK chef has also recently made a garlic and peach tart. Surprisingly tasty.

OLDWAYS: What new things did you discover about garlic in the process of writing this book?
NATASHA: The biggest revelations about garlic came from stories of its use as a natural remedy in so many different cultures and throughout human history. It seems we are consistently revealing that our ancestors had a much better understanding of how food can affect our health. While modern science continues to provide proof of garlic’s ability to improve cardiovascular health, kill harmful bacteria, and boost our immune systems, we only need to look to the incredible stories of garlic’s healing power from ancient times to modern day to be convinced. The ancient civilizations of Egypt, China, India, Greece, and Rome all held garlic in high regard as a treatment for countless conditions. We have now become so far removed from our ancestors’ discoveries that we have all but disregarded these natural remedies in favor of antibiotics and other modern medicines.

Before science was able to explain garlic’s curative abilities, people attributed its healing powers to pure magic. This perhaps helps to explain garlic’s association with warding off evil spirits as well as illness. Vampire deterring properties aside however, our ancestors were definitely right about something and that is garlic’s natural remedial properties.

OLDWAYS:  Can you share a few ideas for how you personally will turn to garlic as medicine?
NATASHA: As with most natural ways to improve our health or dietary inclusions for health purposes, the effects are most notable over the long term. While garlic can be an extremely effective, immediate antiseptic or antifungal treatment, for general health purposes regular intake is where its strength lies. I believe at least a clove a day - especially when eaten raw - will boost the immune system, improve cardiovascular health, and ward off a wide variety of bacterial and viral infections. At home, I always increase my garlic intake when I feel a cold coming on or if I feel my immune system needs a boost. A virgin bloody Mary made with garlic or simply brushing raw garlic cloves onto toasted bread are great ways to increase your daily raw garlic intake.

OLDWAYS: We were intrigued by so many of your recipes, from pickled garlic to chickpea curry.  We had to try the Garlic, Cumin, and Beet Fritters. May we share this recipe with our readers?
NATASHA: Yes, I would be happy for you to include this recipe. These sweet and delicious mouthfuls make a wonderful first course alongside freshly made tzatziki dip for dunking.

Garlic, Cumin and Beet Fritters
Increase the quantities and pile these high for impressive party nibbles.

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 large raw beets, peeled and grated
¼ cup flour, plus extra for shaping the fritters
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
Tzatziki, to serve

Directions:
1. Heat a frying pan, add the cumin seeds, and toast over high heat for 2 minutes to release their flavor.

2. In a bowl combine the grated beets, flour, and cumin seeds, then add the garlic, crush into the mixture, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Use your hands to bring all the ingredients together, squeezing the mixture to absorb all the flour.

4. With wet hands, shape the mixture into small balls. (This can be a little awkward, but don’t worry, the beets will hold their shape once in the oil.) Sprinkle some flour onto a plate and coat the balls in the flour.

5. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Carefully place the beet balls into the pan, fry on each side until crispy, then place on paper towels to absorb excess oil.

6. Serve immediately with tzatziki.

Makes 12 small fritters

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