BY SUSAN WENZEL
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Oct. 29, 2013
Count Dracula, take heed! Georgie Smith sowed enough garlic plants on her Ebey’s Prairie farm this past week to eradicate your entire blood-sucking species.
A heavy shroud of fog crept across the fields and concealed the carefully orchestrated, annual fall ritual from prying eyes. Acres of rich farmland had been prepped and now stood empty in wait for garlic. Lots of garlic. Under farmer Smith’s keen guidance, the Willowood Farm crew buried more than 40,000 individual cloves of Chinese White, Purple Glazer, Nootka Rose, Georgian Fire, Inchellium and Red Janice deep in the graveyard black soil.
Autumn is haunting time for goblins, ghouls and things that go bump in the night as well as the season to harvest the last summer vegetables and start winter crops. At Willowood, a handful of workers bundled fresh winter greens, while the others tended to the planting. Along with the garlic, Smith is also wintering over a few rows of onions started from seed in the hopes they can be added to her spring line of heirloom produce.
“We planted 200 named vegetable varieties this past year,” said Smith, the fourth generation to farm the land in the heart of Whidbey Island.
“Of course, 20 of those were different kinds of garlic,” she added.
Garlic grows well in the temperate Whidbey climate, and returns the greatest yield when planted in the cool, fall days before the first frost. While some farmers plant garlic by mechanical means, Smith does not. She knows that precise sowing and gathering by hand renders the highest quality product. Then, from each harvest, she selects the biggest and best of each variety, cures the bulbs in the darkened barn, and keeps them safe in the temperature- and humidity-controlled dry room until the cycle begins again. The rest is enjoyed by garlic lovers everywhere.
The “stinking rose” has a long history of being one of the world’s healthiest foods for man, woman and child – minus the aforementioned creatures of the night. The fabled vampire repellent is rich in manganese, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin C, and is often attributed with anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, and with the capacity to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease.
Folklore and folk medicine aside, garlic is simply scrumptious.
Garlic, like its pungent allium cousins – shallots, onions, leeks and chives – is a desirable addition to many savory dishes. The scent of garlic sautéing in a pat of butter is arguably one of the most drool-inducing aromas in the culinary world.
“We have garlic for sale from May on through November, starting with the scapes and green garlic in the late spring, and the cured, mature garlic, for food and seed, starting in July,” Smith said.
“We sell garlic in one form or another pretty much all year round.”
The delicate flavor of garlic scapes, the flowering shoot of a hard-neck garlic plant removed early to redirect energy to the growing bulb, pairs nicely with eggs, potatoes, or as the main ingredient in a decadent pesto. Early green garlic is delicious when split lengthways, dressed with a bit of olive oil, grilled and served atop a medium-rare rib eye. Mature garlic is tasty whole-roasted and mashed on a fresh baguette or crushed, chopped or minced with, well, just about everything.
In peak season, Smith makes twice-weekly garlic and produce deliveries to the James Beard award winning Sitkah & Spruce and top-ranked Walrus and the Carpenter restaurants in Seattle. Many fine eateries on Whidbey Island also feature Willowood goods, such as Frasers Gourmet Hideaway and The BBQ Joint in Oak Harbor; Coupeville’s Front Street Grill, Oystercatcher Restaurant, Christopher’s on Whidbey and Ciao; and South Whidbey’s The Braeburn Restaurant, Roaming Radish catering and Tree Top Baking.
Islander’s can purchase Smith’s culinary garlic and other vegetables, including Rockwell beans, broccoli, salad greens and potatoes at island farmer’s markets, Prairie Center in Coupeville, The Star Store and The Goose Community Grocer in Langley, and 3 Sisters Farm store on State Route 20 near Penn Cove.
Willowood Farm is widely known for its premium veggies, but credit has to be given where credit is due so, thank you, Farmer Georgie, for keeping the vampires off the island and over on the Olympic Peninsula, where they belong!
Food writer Susan Wenzel believes in the power of locally produced food to fortify the health and well-being of both the individual and the community as a whole.
Pictured at top: Morgan Savage and Paige Handy plant rows of China White by hand.