Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Herbs and Spices 2 – Garlic – Allium Sativum

Number Two – Garlic

Technically Garlic is neither a herb nor a spice but is a species in the onion genus, Allium. Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek, chive, and Chinese onion. Garlic is native to Central Asia and northeastern Iran and has long been a common seasoning worldwide with a history of several thousand years of human consumption and use. It was used by ancient Egyptians and has been used both as a food flavoring and as a traditional medicine.

There are many varieties and they differ in size, pungency and colour. The most widely used European variety has a white/grey papery skin and pinkish-grey cloves and is grown in southern France. The bulbs found on sale are actually dried though we tend to consider them fresh. Garlic is one of the world’s most valued ingredients, synonymous with so many cuisines that most kitchens would be bare without it. Not only does is have an irresistible flavour, it also has amazing healing powers. Consuming just one clove a day will not only top up your body’s supplies of vital vitamins and minerals, but also help maintain a healthy heart and help the body fight off infection. Well, I’m sold on this popular ingredient and intend to grow and cook with it much more in future. I have found an excellent book called  ‘The Goodness Of Garlic’ by Natasha Edwards so I am looking forward to learning more. Natasha Edwards grew up surrounded by garlic on the world renowned garlic farm on the Isle of Wight run by her father, Colin Boswell, and she draws on her own knowledge and experience of cooking, eating and using garlic as a remedy. She is the co-author of The Garlic Farm Cookbook and author of Garlic: The Mighty Bulb.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/natasha-edwards-Books

 

Some varieties of garlic are best planted as sets in autumn to be harvested in early to mid-summer the following year. It’s a crop easy to grow from sets and rising in popularity all the time to use in the kitchen and to grow in vegetable plots. Garlic is propagated by planting cloves or using bulbils. Save some of your crop for planting next season. Propagating garlic using bulbils can be much more effective than planting cloves. There are many more bulbils than cloves, making it easier to build up your planting stock. And since bulbils don’t touch the ground, you have a lower incidence of soil-borne diseases. Plant them just like you would plant cloves

Although the ideal planting time is November you can plant as late as April and at this warmer time of year you could try planting up any spare cloves left over from supermarket bought garlic. Start by dividing the cloves of garlic from the bulb and plant the largest and healthiest. The wild ancestors of modern day garlic would have originated from the mountainous regions of Asia and are programmed to search deeply for water. Fill a deep pot with seed compost. Plant one clove per pot in an upright position no more than 1½ ” below the soil surface. Water well and place outside in a sunny position out of the way of cold winds. From early June onwards begin feeding with a general purpose plant food every two weeks. The garlic should be ready for harvesting any time between August and September depending on weather and variety.Once dried these bulbs should keep in good condition for 3-4 months.

Garlic has many culinary uses. The cloves are separated, peeled and then used whole, chopped or crushed. The easiest way to crush garlic is to place a clove on a board and, using the flat side of a small knife, press down firmly until you have squashed it to a pulp. Sprinkle a little salt on the clove to help the knife grip. Garlic crushers are fine but some say that crushing the garlic this way gives it a bitter taste. The more finely the garlic is crushed the stronger it will taste in the dish but slow oven baking tends to mellow the flavour. By baking the garlic it softens the sharpness of the flavour and brings out it’s sweetness.

You can’t beat the simple flavour of garlic, thyme and salt and pepper on a good quality rib of beef. The juices make a fantastic gravy. Garlic bread is another popular way to use this versatile food.

 

Herbs and Spices 1 – Star Anise – Illicium Verum

I have never used herbs and spices in my cooking and indeed admit to very little knowledge of them apart from the Sage and Onion, Mint Sauce, Salt and Pepper etcetera that are in every British kitchen cupboard. I have recently taken an interest and want to expand my use of them in my cooking. I have decided therefore to do a small series of posts as I think I learn and remember better when I write things down.

Number One – Star Anise

Star anise is a seed pod shaped like an eight-pointed star and contains seeds with an aniseed flavour which comes from the spice’s essential oil.  It is used widely in Chinese cooking and is one of the five spices in Chinese five-spice powder. Star Anise has been made in to a tea and taken as a remedy for rheumatism. The seeds are sometimes chewed after meals to aid digestion.  Like anise, star anise is an anti-flatulent and can be used as a diuretic.  The taste imparted is aniseed or liquorice and can be used when poaching fruit. By itself whole star anise is frequently used to sweeten soups and meat stews in other types of cuisines. One or two pieces are usually enough to flavor a large bowl as the taste can be overpowering. If you plan to use it as a spice rub, powdered or ground star anise is more practical. The spice is also commonly used in breads, pastries and other types of desserts because of its particular sweetness. Pudding, strudels and custards are some of the preparations where star anise can be used to add a unique flavor.

Star Anise provides us with vitamins and minerals including Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Calcium and Phosphorous. It also provides moderate amounts of various B-complex vitamins. This versatile spice also helps ease digestion.

Illiciums first evolved in the Cretaceous period around 100 million years ago while dinosaurs still roamed the earth. They are a group of around 30 species of small trees and shrubs from North America, the Caribbean and Asia. Illiciums may not be instantly recognisable by their botanical name but will be recognised as the spice Star Anise which  is the seed pod of Illicium verum. The spice commonly called Star Anise or Badiam that closely resembles anise in flavor is obtained from the star-shaped seed pod of the fruit of Illicium verum which are harvested just before ripening. Star anise oil is a highly fragrant oil used in cooking, perfumery, soaps, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and skin creams.