“Garlic is a multi-season crop,” said Deb Habib of Seeds of Solidarity Farm, one of the event’s organizers. “It’s the bulb you harvest at the end of July, but earlier in the spring you can harvest bunches of garlic greens and make pesto out of those with pine nuts, Romano cheese and olive oil. And, of course, in June the scapes come up” (a reference to the garlic plant’s slender, curly flower shoot that only appears on the “hardneck” varieties that grow best in our Northeast climate).
By September, the bulbs harvested in July have been hanging in the barn for two months and are fully cured. The skins around each clove have dried and will allow the bulb to store well into the spring. Now is the time when growers begin collecting seed cloves for planting next year’s crop from mid-October to early November.
Dozens of garlic varieties are available at the festival for eating or planting. Every hour on the hour Ricky Baruc, also of Seeds of Solidarity, will lead a workshop on growing garlic. His farm alone produces 16 different kinds, including favorites like Rosewood and Legacy.
Conventional California garlic, or worse, fumigated Chinese garlic, simply stinks compared with cold-weather-adapted local garlic. In fact, most of the varieties grown locally originally come from Central Asia and Eastern Europe, where for centuries garlic has been indispensable for both culinary and medicinal uses.
Garlic’s significance in various ethnic cuisines is highlighted throughout the weekend. As part of a series of chef cooking demonstrations, Fatou Sidibe of the Good Morning Athol Café will prepare maffe peanut sauce, a garlic-laced specialty from her native Senegal. Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, a classic French dish, will be presented by Andrew Sussman of Butternuts in Hadley.
Max Brody of the Night Kitchen in Montague and Gail Beauregarde of the Copper Angel in Erving are among several other chefs who will share their recipes and pass out samples of their garlic cookery.
A host of food vendors will also be dishing up a diverse array of garlic fare. Pomir Grill will serve Afghan lamb, chicken and beef kabobs, Peng Yew Catering will prepare Malaysian chicken with Thai basil, and Bueno Y Sano is offering fire-roasted garlic burritos, to name just a few.
Incredibly, almost all the waste generated from feeding 10,000 garlic lovers will be composted, since the festival continues its trash-free philosophy. All the food is served on plates made of biodegradable paper or a tree-free recycled sugar cane fiber. Utensils and cups are made of corn or potato starch.
The weekend is also packed with folk, rock, blues and world music performances, all of which take place on a fully solar-powered stage operated by Pioneer Valley PhotoVoltaics. For a full schedule of events see www.garlicandarts.org.
Perhaps the most entertaining show, however, promises to be the garlic-eating contest. Reigning champion Gary Guertin managed to beat the competition two years in a row by swallowing 32 fiery raw cloves. But a heated showdown promises to unfold this year when the previous two-year title-holder is expected to return.For my part, I’ll continue to enjoy my garlic roasted, sautéed or pounded into a pesto.