These and so many other qualities have fascinated countless people but surely no one as much as Liz Primeau, a Canadian author and gardening enthusiast. She has spent several years avidly researching the little bulb and all its attributes.
“Today there is a renewed interest in its medicinal value so the ancients are being proven right,” says the author of “In Pursuit of Garlic: An Intimate Look at the Divinely Odorous Bulb” (Greystone Books, $19.95, paperback).
It was a Canadian Press article in 2009 on China’s dumping of its garlic in Canada to the detriment of local growers that prompted her to write the book, says Primeau, who is also the founding editor of Canadian Gardening magazine and the former host of "Canadian Gardening Television" on HGTV.
After talking to Canadian and U.S. garlic producers about the competition from Asia, she found that most of them were being pushed out of business.
“I think it is immoral and terrible that this was allowed to happen,” Primeau says. “I certainly got the impression there was anger towards governments who weren't supporting their farmers.”
As a result, she contends, instead of being a vibrant business in this country, “garlic growing is just a cottage industry.”
To add to the plight, Canadian grocery chains have turned to China for their garlic supply, she says. The reason given is that they can get the off-shore garlic year-round which is not the case with North American crops.
Primeau says unfortunately consumers don't appear to care where the garlic comes from “even if it is old, has been stored forever because they are shipping year-round and we don't know if it has been irradiated.”
Her quest to learn more about garlic in all its forms took her to several festivals celebrating the “divine bulb.”
Primeau travelled to the famous Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, a similar festival held in September in Stratford, Ont., and to a most remarkable and elusive event called L’ail Rose in Lautrec, France.
There, she discovered the rare pink garlic as well as a celebration of the bulb through music and dancing while revellers sample food and wine.
This book is also packed with fascinating facts, practical advice on growing, curing and storage, recipes and personal stories telling the story of the vegetable that Primeau says has “made an appearance in the life of almost everyone who has ever lived.”
From the book, here is a medicinal recipe for what Primeau calls “a great cold remedy.”
13 cloves garlic, peeled
500 ml (2 cups) chicken stock
2 thick slices crusty bread
Grated Gruyere or cheddar cheese
Simmer garlic in stock for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender. Blend with immersion blender.
Put bread into 2 bowls and sprinkle with cheese. Pour soup over, wrap yourself in a blanket, hold the bowl close to your mouth so that you will smell the vapours, and spoon it in.
Makes 2 servings.