(Photo and article by Steve Routon)
Around here, garlic has become a prized commodity. At a recent Market Saturday at Copes Park, one of the vendors hung up some freshly dug green garlic just to provide some color and, you know, atmosphere. After only a few minutes, a very lucky person spotted it and bought the “display”. That bunch of Deerfield, a five-star Purple Stripe garlic prized its spicy flavor, originally from Vietnam, didn’t last long.
Now, some might feel badly about missing that early season opportunity, but then most of us know the season of heirloom and gourmet garlic is around the middle of August and it’s that time again.
There are a handful of other garlic celebrations in the Northwest, but some of them are in June, when the garlic scapes are just being popped off and the garlic is either still in the ground or “green”. Other festivals feature carnival rides and peripheral attractions, but are a bit lean on the goods.
Clatskanie brings the fervor. We will have thousands of bulbs. At last count there will be more than 30 different strains, everything from relatively mild softnecks like Italian Late and Nootka Rose to the powerful hot Rocamboles and Deerfield, a Purple Stripe. Around here, we take our garlic seriously.
The local growers have been refining their techniques for years, some for decades. While garlic has a reputation for “growing like weeds,” good garlic takes patience and meticulous attention to detail: bed preparation, mulching, weeding, adding nutrients, spring watering, weeding, removing scapes (blossoms) from the hardneck strains, weeding, careful harvesting, and finally curing and tagging. Did I mention weeding? Garlic is one of nature’s prima donnas. It doesn’t fare well with the competition of garden companions. If you want big garlic with skins intact and great flavor, you have to take care of it.
The Festival takes place in the middle of our usual Saturday Market, so if you want something special to accompany the featured product, we will have artisan breads and fresh vegetables. Our local crafters will be out in force as well. We always have handmade soaps, art and crafts. Bring your appetite because we once again will be offering free garlic bites prepared on the spot. Artisan bread toasted and hit with roasted garlic spread, garlic sauces, and gazpacho have all been on the menu of previous Festivals. We will also have food vendors to provide more substantial treats and, of course, pastries, cookies, and homemade toffee. The Festival will also feature live music and lawn games for kids of all ages.
So while this Festival will not be televised and you won’t need a map to navigate the site amenities, you will find extraordinary gourmet garlic. Savvy visitors will head for the vendors offering what is called “seed stock.” This is the best of the best, and while you will be tempted to pop these in your roasts, soups, stews, pestos, salsas, hummus, salad dressings, and well, everything else, don’t. Pop it in the ground instead. Big, healthy cloves yield big, healthy bulbs.
If you haven’t a clue about how, when, or in what to grow this bulb, ask a vendor that is selling beautiful garlic. Those bulbs didn’t get like that on their own.
Clatskanie Farmers Market Garlic Festival. See you there! Copes’ Park. 10am-2pm!
Read more and see the vendor lineup for this weekend in our weekly newsletter HERE!