creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Very Smelly Story

 All objects, including the food we eat and clothes we wear, even the most inanimate or simple of objects, has a story to it —  a unique history of how it came into being. These stories follow an object around with it, and part of the art of life is to discover and share those unique stories with each other. So, I hope you’ll enjoy this glimpse into a particularly powerful and pungent variety of hard-necked garlic, nicknamed “brought-from-Russia-in-the-lining-of-a-coat garlic.”  To discover just why it’s called that…read on:


This summer I was given the task of harvesting most of the organic garlic on DFCF. It was one of my cousin’s favorite activities, so it was quite an honor to do it and got to experience firsthand, why he loved it so.

However, it wasn’t easy! Mother Nature had one of her most brutally humid summers in the Midwest/east coast. I developed a system of getting up at dawn, and working until about 10:30am, when the amount of sweat pouring down my face had washed away all sunblock, then I fled inside to cool down and avoid burning. Additionally, the ground was tough, and the bulbs wouldn’t just come out without a good fight. If the earth wasn’t loosened first around them, the rooted “beards” beneath the bulb would cling on tightly and the green necks would rip off from the bulb as you pulled on it. In order to do a good job and preserve as many whole bulbs and stems as possible, I had to carefully dig them out one by one. But even that proved to be a challenge. Put the shovel blade too close and it could slice right into the bulb, too far and it wouldn’t loosen enough so the neck would rip when pulled.

The process required care, attention – and patience. It became a kind of meditation and focus practice for me. I noticed that whenever my mind got caught up in thinking about other things than the task at hand, I’d end up with a damaged bulb. I was determined to do a good job! So I took my time, but not too much, as the job needed to get done in a somewhat timely manner!

By the end of the process, I unearthed over 1000 gorgeous bulbs of garlic from two different varieties – one hardneck and the other softneck. The hardneck bulbs tended to yield a larger, more gorgeous looking bulb that received a lot of attention from admiring buyers at the farmer’s market. I felt quite pleased to be the guy who harvested most of the garlic, but I was curious to know more of the story behind the bulb and the people who put all the hard work in before I receive the credit (we know Mother Nature ultimately deserves all of it).

Each precious bulb emerged from a single clove, which was planted in October the year before. After approximately nine-ten months of growing time within the soil and sunlight, as the green stalks started to brown, it became time to pluck them out of the Earth, where they would then be “cured” so they could store for a long time.

The history of cultivated garlic goes back 6,000 years to ancient China, but this beloved variety of hard-neck garlic was gifted to DFCF by a local organic farming guru, Jeanette, who began organic farming long before it caught much attention. I attended a dinner party at her farm, where she told me where she got the variety (at least this is my version of the story). Seems a friend of hers had some of the bulbs lying around that were left over from his deceased grandmother belongings.

He didn’t know what to do with them and he thought they were just dried up onions (they are in the same genus). But he did know that his grandmother, a Russian immigrant who fled her country originally brought the garlic and a few other items over to America with her so that she would have something familiar with her to plant and comfort her when she arrived in a foreign land. To keep them close to her she sewed the garlic cloves into the lining of her coat. Jeanette asked her friend if she could have some cloves herself to cultivate, and over time help develop the big bulb. From there the garlic variety has spread to various farms across Iowa, producing their beautiful big bulbs. I asked Jeanette what she called the variety and she responded “brought-from-Russia-in-the-lining-of-a-coat garlic.” A long title, but an appropriate one!

Oh and one last tidbit, I also learned that garlic produces a little clone of itself that flowers up from it’s stem known as a scape. These remarkable airborn-mini-garlic bulbs have a flavor and smell very similar to the garlic below the earth, and are considered a delicacy among those who know how to cook with them. However, their growth drains energy away from the development of the bulb beneath the soil, and so are plucked off as early as possible. They look quite cute however!


And so that, is some of the story behind the garlic! What stories do the items in your cupboards, your closets, your drawers have? What does it take to find out? How could you share them?

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