A Passion For Garlic (cont)
By: Vicky Congdon
Getting to Know Garlic
Ron Engeland breaks garlic into three hardneck types (rocambole, purple stripe and porcelain) and two softnecks (artichoke and silverskin). He then subdivides three of these types. Here we illustrate their relationship, using a strain from each type, and give the approximate number of strains in cultivation in the U.S. Comments on flavor are from Engeland's experiences in Washington state. He notes that climate, soil, temperature extremes during the growing season and length of storage all affect the flavor of garlic.
Hardneck Garlic Allium ophioscorodon The closest descendants of wild garlic, hardnecks form a tall, woody flower stalk in spring. Below ground, a single circle of cloves forms around this central stalk. At the top of the stalk, a capsule develops, containing a cluster of smaller garlic cloves (bulbils). The loose-skinned cloves are easy to peel but quicker to dry out, so they don't keep as long as softneck garlic. Hardnecks are reputed to have a more intense, "half-wild" garlic flavor. They perform best in cool climates.
Rocambole. The most commonly grown hardneck garlic. Distinctive 3- to 4-foot flower stalk forms one to three tight coils; bulbs are blotchy purple; plump cloves are brownish with a reddish blush, 6 to 11 per bulb; stores 4 to 6 months; outstanding raw flavor when well grown and locally adapted; retains its character when cooked. About 30 strains.
Glazed. This purple stripe subgroup combines characteristics of both that type and rocambole. Bulbs and cloves have a purple glaze tinged with gold or silver; fewer, shorter cloves than standard purple stripe; stores 4 to 6 months. Perhaps 2 strains.
Purple Stripe. The only garlic that appears to produce fertile flowers, which suggests it may be the oldest type. Tall flower stalks make perfect 270° curls or random coils; bulb colors vary by soil and climate; cloves are tall with red-purple streaks and blush over buff background; 8 to 12 cloves per bulb; stores 4 to 6 months; flavor is similar to rocambole but with more "zip"; holds flavor when cooked. About 17 strains.
Marbled. A varied subgroup of purple stripe, this type also has characteristics of both rocambole and porcelain types and is possibly the garlic from which rocambole evolved. Bulbs are mottled or spotted; cloves are fa and dark brown, with 4 to 7 per bulb; stores 6 to 8 months. About 7 strains.
Porcelain. Relatively rare in North America. When grown in poor soil, this type resembles wild garlic, with small, narrow leaves. In fertile soil, the plants are tall and vigorous. Bulbs have shiny, smooth, tight, white wrappers; cloves are plump with tall tips, 3 to 6 per bulb, colors are similar to standard purple stripe; stores 6 to 7 months; flavor is similar to rocambole but with more bite (and tastes hotter after storage); good raw or cooked. About 11 strains.
Softneck Garlic Allium sativum The most commonly grown garlic in the world. Descendants of hardneck garlic, softnecks have lost the ability to flower or produce topsets (although some will produce bulbils when stressed by cold climates or wet conditions). Their bulbs are large, with overlapping layers of cloves all the way to the center. Tight bulb wrappers and clove skins prevent dehydration, thus they store longer than hardnecks. The flavor ranges from mild to hot. The softnecks are easier to grow and more widely adapted than the hardneck types.
Silverskin. This is the garlic you see in the supermarket, and the favorite with braiders. It performs best in very fertile soil and a long season with a mild winter. Very upright plants; bulbs are slightly elliptical with very tight, smooth, white wrappers; solid red-pink or glossy white cloves with very tight skins, 3 to 6 layers in northern climates and up to 8 in southern climates; stores for up to one year; grown in ideal conditions, raw flavor can be very mild. Grown in less than ideal conditions, it can be unpleasantly hot. Cooking brings out the flavor. About 15 strains.
Artichoke. Believed to have evolved from rocambole, this is the easiest garlic to grow because it adapts to a wide variety of soils and climates. Plants are vigorous. Some strains produce small bulbils in the juncture of the leaves. Bulbs are large and lumpy with thick, coarse, often yellowish wrappers; cloves overlap in 4 to 5 layers like an artichoke; large outer cloves and small inner ones, 12 to 20 per bulb; most cloves off-white with some light pink or brown blush; stores 6 to 9 months; flavor is better raw. About 56 strains.
Turban. Currently only a few varieties of this artichoke subgroup are available. Engeland offers them as part of a specialty pack. Forms a weak flower stalk with a turban-shaped capsule; bulbs are purple-red; single layer of cloves with light glossy pink; stores 2 to 4 months. Perhaps 3 strains.
Asiatic. This artichoke subgroup matures very suddenly and a little earlier than standard artichokes. Rare in this country. Adaptable to cold and mild wet winter climates. Short, drooping flower stalk bears a long capsule shaped like a dried bean pod that contains only a few large bulbils; bulbs are faintly striped; forms a single circle (like hardnecks) of firm, plump cloves with thick, slightly glossy skins; stores 6 to 9 months. About 4 strains.
Creole. This silverskin subgroup produces short, weak, arching flower stalks and tiny capsules that sometimes fail to produce bulbils.Large bulbs are often purple; fat, wide, red-pink or red-purple cloves, often with only 1 to 2 per bulb; stores for up to 8 or 9 months; grows best in the Southwest and mild winter climates. About 3 strains.
Currently an editor at Williamson Publishing, Vicky Congdon is a former managing editor at National Gardening.
Photography by Sabin Gratz, Suzanne DeJohn and National Gardening Association