Way out on the outskirts of Olney, behind an unassuming, suburban house, lurks a vampire’s worst nightmare: the backyard garden of Jim and Mary Nupp, the demon garlic-growers of Brookeville.
Debbie Amster, one of our favorite farmers market demo chefs, and a holistic health counselor, introduced me to her friends and suppliers. Is there a healthier food than garlic? I was invited out to the farm for a tour during scape season. When the new crop of heads is harvested (September 3), there will be a garlic cooking demo at OFAM.
We went out there on the one rare clear day during a week of Spring rain. Going though the house, we were greeted with the unmistakable odor of the stinking rose. Mary had warmed up some garlic butter for us to sample. To say that she chops up garlic and melts a stick of butter would be to oversimplify the process by which she arrived at the ideal mix of garlic varieties for this recipe.
Jim and Mary have done a lot of work to determine the best varieties, from the 10-12 Jim grows, for each of the applications they have developed. They sell many products at two garlic shows they attend each year. Raw dried granulated garlic is their most popular item, but Mary has developed a line of jewelry using dried cloves that is essential for the garlic enthusiast on your holiday gift list. Also, garlic turkeys, angels, and pumpkins.
They also sell a nifty gadget called the Garlic Twist, essential for the chef who wants to keep that smell off his/her fingers. It will produce perfectly minced garlic without the touch of human hands.
Jim is versed in garlic’s history and cultivation. A milestone in the modern American garlic era occurred in the early 1990’s, with the opening of the Iron Curtain and the release of hundreds of Soviet-cultivated varieties to the West. The US Department of Agriculture checked the DNA of many varieties, and now Jim is raising garlic labeled Romanian Red and (my personal favorite name) Transylvanian, in addition to Xi’an, Kettle River Giant, Red Janice, and Bull.
His garlic plot was green with new shoots and scapes. The scapes are the flower stalks, which must be trimmed off so the plant will concentrate its energy in growing the bulbs. Farmers used to throw them on the compost heap or keep them for themselves, but lately they have been recognized as a tasty Spring vegetable in their own right. They have a mild garlic flavor, and can be cooked or eaten raw, wherever you would use bulb garlic or another allium.
And speaking of alliums, a patch of chives near the house yields chive vinegar from Mary’s versatile kitchen. What else might be in store on September 3? I can’t wait to find out!