Sharing a strong taste for garlic

Cookbook: With the recently published "Garlic, Garlic, Garlic," Fred and Linda Griffith reveal their passion for the herb through recipes and essays.

January 27, 1999|By Jane Snow | Jane Snow,Knight Ridder/Tribune

When Fred and Linda Griffith decided to write a book about garlic, one thing led to another. Now, two years later, their back yard in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, is filled with 100 garlic plants, and Mr. Griffith tools around town in a car with a GARLIC2 license plate.

"People get very passionate about it," he explains.

Uh-huh.

The Griffiths -- he is the host of a daily cooking segment on a Cleveland television morning talk show -- are so passionate about garlic that they've held raw garlic tastings. And even after developing, testing and tasting almost 200 garlic recipes, when she cooks now, Mrs. Griffith says, "I can't believe ... the first thing I do is reach for the garlic."

The Griffiths' fifth cookbook may well be their best -- even better than "Onions, Onions, Onions," which won the prestigious James Beard Award. Certainly, they say, this book was the most fun to write.

The recently published "Garlic, Garlic, Garlic" (Houghton Mifflin) is the culmination of months of tramping through garlic fields on the West Coast and in Ohio, and eating in garlic restaurants from New Orleans to Finland.

As in the past, Mrs. Griffith developed the recipes and Mr. Griffith wrote the essays sprinkled throughout the book. He writes about garlic and vampires, garlic and baseball, and garlic in literature. We learn that Eleanor Roosevelt ate three chocolate-covered garlic cloves daily to keep her memory sharp, and that garlic-flavored condoms are available in Great Britain.

But mostly we learn about great ways to cook garlic, and the great people across the country who eat it and grow it.

"There are wonderful people who just devote themselves to this little aspect of agriculture," Mr. Griffith says.

The Griffiths hooked up with retired garlic grower Horace Shaw in Weston, Ore., who gave them his recipe for Torpedo Juice. It's a mixture of garlic, ginger, cayenne, onion and horseradish topped off with vinegar, and Shaw drinks the mixture every day.

"He says if you drink it you'll never get a cold," Mr. Griffith recalls.

The Griffiths tramped through a 1960s-style commune in Washington state, where unusual varieties of garlic such as Red Toch and Georgian Crystal are grown and harvested by hand.

They met garlic farmers Wendy Douglas and Bob Zimmerman, who soon began showing up at the Griffiths' home with trunk loads of garlic to use in recipe testing. Zimmerman, the Griffiths discovered, has the license plate Mr. Griffith was unable to coax from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles -- GARLIC1.

The Griffiths ate a lot of garlic-laden food in their travels. Mrs. Griffith flew to Iceland to dine at an all-garlic restaurant, and discovered pickled garlic, which Icelanders eat like popcorn. The Griffiths also visited the garlic festival in Gilroy, Calif., where they ate garlic steak sandwiches at the Elk's Club, garlic squid cooked by a group of used-car dealers and garlic ice cream ("It's actually very tasty," Mrs. Griffith says).

Along the way, they learned a lot about garlic. Until beginning their research, Mrs. Griffith says, all garlic was pretty much the same to them. Now, they buy California softneck garlic only when they have no choice.

California Early and California Late softneck garlic is the kind most often sold in grocery stores. They're easy varieties to grow, and they have a long shelf life. The skin is usually white or silvery and the flavor is OK, but it lacks the complexity of the hardneck varieties.

Hardneck garlic comes with a little stick in the middle of each bulb. Most have large cloves, and the skin can range from deep purple to red-streaked to ivory. The flavors are described as "nutty," "silken," "earthy" and "metallic."

"When you've been exposed to these others -- I call them designer garlic -- you understand the difference and you want them," Mrs. Griffith says. "In comparison, these have a cleaner taste. You won't have a grassy undertone to it."

The Griffiths also learned about cooking with garlic while writing the book. Fall is the best time to buy garlic, they say, because it is fresh from the fields and loaded with flavor.

They also learned that a dash or two of coarse salt keeps garlic from sticking to the knife while cutting.

The Griffiths store their garlic in a paper bag in their garage, although any cool, dark place will do, Mrs. Griffith says. When the cloves begin to sprout in the spring, remove the bitter sprout. When the cloves turn brownish and wrinkled, throw them away and wait for the new harvest, she says.

The recipes in the book run the gamut from soup to snacks to stews. Most are for richly flavored comfort foods, although the Griffiths did include a recipe for the garlic ice cream.

"It's nutty, I'd say," Mr. Griffith says of the flavor.

You're telling us.

Garlicky Buffalo Wings

Makes 40 pieces

8 tablespoons butter

4 plump garlic cloves, put through a garlic press

40 chicken drumettes

1/2 cup Durkee's Red Hot sauce

1/4 cup Hellfire Damnation or other hot pepper sauce

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

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