Donna and Larry Branton of GordRon Garlic look to different varieties of garlic as a unique and delicious secondary crop on their organic grain farm.
by Mary Bailey
“The harvest is hard work, I’m glad most of it is done,” says Donna about the one acre of garlic she planted with her husband Larry this spring. “Larry did rig up a contraption, but we still have to pull everything by hand.”
Donna loves garlic and had planted it in her backyard garden for several years. The Brantons decided to try the pungent crop on a bigger scale on the family’s organic grain farm near Thorsby in 2014.
“I wanted to try all these different garlics. Some are pinkish, some have stripes, some are glossy. Some are huge, some are tiny, there is so much variation in the appearance and flavour.”
That year they planted 22 varieties. The idea? To discover which could become a commercial crop. “It was a bad year with really bad drought — only nine varieties ended up being viable. We have found five that do really well — Russian Red, Leningrad, Tibetan, Georgian Crystal and German Hard Neck.”
Local stores have Chinese garlic (Donna says it’s a variety of a Porcelain commercial garlic called Music, white and papery with lots of cloves, dry, pungent and stale tasting). Or you can find good quality Gilroy, California garlic (fresh and tasty) at the Italian Centre. Friends share the juicy BC garlic they find near Creston and some farmers’ market stands sell garlic. But, generally, finding really great garlic is a crapshoot. So, the idea of many different varieties of fresh and juicy local garlic is appealing.
The field near the house is a sea of nodding heads on long skinny necks. The head is called the umbel and neck the scape. The umbel (the flower) is filled with tiny cloves called bulbils. These can be eaten, or planted. We open an umbel and taste a few small bulbils — juicy, with layers of flavour and a long savoury aftertaste. You immediately want to cook something with it.
Donna explains that garlic can de divided into two main types: hard neck, with a long thin stalk called the scape, and soft neck, which don’t have the scape. Soft necks, such as Silverskin (GordRon grows Nootka Rose) are pungent, store extremely well and are easy to braid.
Hard necks such as Rocambole (Spanish Roja, Leningrad, Tibetan) are deeply complex in flavour, with large cloves that peel easily. They don’t store all that well and need to be used up in about three months. Porcelain (Georgian Crystal, German) have large cloves and can be hot and pungent in flavour. Striped (Russian Red, Purple Glazer and Mexican purple) are beautiful shades of purple with flavours in between the Rocambole and Porcelain types.
“This is our first year selling garlic. It’s not an inexpensive product at $24 per pound,” says Donna. “Organic California garlic is $27 per pound.”
How many bulbs in a pound depends on the size of the bulbs, which range from 1.5-3 inches in diameter depending on the variety.
“We’ll keep some of the harvest for seed. It’s an experiment. If it works we’d like to expand to four acres. I would love to introduce more varieties,” says Donna. “Garlic has been around for thousands of years. It’s a shame to only be able to try a few types.”
After a morning spent wandering around the garlic field we sit down in the yard to toum (a Lebanese spread similar to aioli, without the egg, recipe follows) and pita along with some fresh, just-picked vegetables for dipping. My hands carry the warm and tangy aroma of fresh garlic. It’s a good stink.
GordRon garlic is available at the farm or by mail order. Visit their informative web site at gordrongarlic.ca.
Adapted from Donna Branton
|2-3 heads||garlic, peeled and grated on a microplane zester|
|1-1½ c||canola oil|
|¼ c||freshly squeezed lemon juice|
Grate the garlic directly into a blender vessel. With motor running, drizzle in half to two thirds of the oil until the garlic and oil start to emulsify. Pour in the water slowly, then the lemon juice. Keep adding oil until the sauce is very thick creamy and light-coloured. Scrape down the sides with the blender stopped. Scrape into an airtight container and store in the fridge. Keeps 3-4 weeks.
GordRon Garlic Farm
GordRon farm is named in honour of Leonard Branton’s (Larry’s grandfather) sons Gordon and Ronald who died in France during WWII.
Larry’s father Kenneth, a Seaforth Highlander who spent time in a German prison camp, started the farm shortly after returning to Canada after the war. Kenneth is now retired and living at the farm.
The farm has always been farmed organically (before people called it that) and was certified in July. gordrongarlic.ca