Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Garlic but Were Afraid To Ask
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Garlic is a lot like sex.
There was a time when respectable people who engaged in these
two popular pleasures of life simply did not discuss it in
public.
Then 26 years ago, the Gilroy Garlic Festival got its start, and
the world couldn’t get enough of the tempting stuff
– garlic, that is.
Garlic is a lot like sex.

There was a time when respectable people who engaged in these two popular pleasures of life simply did not discuss it in public.

Then 26 years ago, the Gilroy Garlic Festival got its start, and the world couldn’t get enough of the tempting stuff – garlic, that is.

In the words of John Zekanoski, who presides over this weekend’s culinary gathering at Christmas Hill Park, “garlic came out of the closet.”

So for the education of the general public during the 2004 Gilroy Garlic Festival weekend, we present various bits of fascinating, but mostly useless, facts about the South Valley’s most famous herb. To take liberties with the title of a popular sex manual from the 1970s, consider this “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Garlic but Were Afraid to Ask.”

History of garlic

• Garlic originated in the steppes of Central Asia and was first cultivated by humans about 6,000 years ago.

• It was grown in the Middle East by Sumerians more than 5,000 years ago.

• The royal courts of ancient Babylon were especially fond of garlic. One Persian court consumed 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of garlic each day.

• Egyptians worshiped garlic as a god. Garlic was found in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen (“King Tut”), and the laborers of the pyramids and temples ate large quantities of garlic to give them strength.

•Early Chinese dynasties used garlic as medicine and to make offerings to their deities more appealing.

• Ancient Greeks who wanted to enter a temple needed to pass a breath test against garlic’s stench.

• During the Roman campaigns, garlic spread across various regions of Europe. Roman soldiers ate garlic because it was the official herb of the war god Mars, and they thought it would promote courage in battle.

• In the Middle Ages, garlic was thought to prevent the plague. During this period, Henri IV of France was a huge garlic fan. When not attending royal duties, he could be found in the kitchen stewing chicken studded with garlic.

• The Spanish missionaries first introduced garlic to California in the late 1700s.

• Garlic fell into disfavor in 19th-century American society because of its connection to poor immigrants coming over from Europe. By the 1940s, eating garlic bread or garlic-laden pasta was a sign of low class.

• In the 1950s in England, Elizabeth David published a book titled “Mediterranean Cooking.” This is considered the “garlic manifesto” because it held a spotlight to the herb’s exceptional flavor.

• In the 1960s, popular cooks James Beard and Julia Child promoted garlic on their TV cooking shows and in their best-selling cookbooks, thus making it “chic to reek” once again in America’s kitchens.

• In the 1970s San Francisco Bay area, Chez Panisse chef Alice Waters roasted whole heads of garlic and presented all-garlic dinners (from garlic soup to garlic sorbet). Garlic thus became a huge hit with high society.

• In mid-1978, then-Gavilan Community College President Rudy Melone was perusing the San Francisco Chronicle when he came across a two-inch article about a garlic festival put on by the French town of Arleux.

Melone decided to try out the idea of a Gilroy-based garlic festival on the local Rotary Club. Among the members, he talked to Don Christopher, a major producer of garlic in the area, and local resident Val Filice.

Melone, Christopher and Filice did not know it at the time, but they were starting an institution that would put Gilroy in the culinary constellation.

Famous people and garlic

• In “The Odyssey,” the poet Homer tells of hero Ulysses escaping from being changed into a pig by the witch Circe (as she had transformed his companions) because he ate of the “Yellow Garlic.”

• Eleanor Roosevelt ate three chocolate-covered garlic balls every morning in the belief that it would improve her memory.

• Cowboy humorist Will Rogers often visited the South Valley area. He described the garlicky town of Gilroy as “the only place you can marinate a steak just by hanging it outdoors.”

Garlicky information

• Garlic oil embeds in the tissue of your lungs, thus causing the inescapable odor when you eat it.

• Globally, about 2.5 million acres of fields are planted with garlic each year to produce about 10 million metric tons of the herb, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. California grows about 90 percent of the garlic in the United States – more than 250 million pounds of garlic every year.

• Every year, Americans consume 3.1 pounds of garlic per person.

• The book “We All Scream for Ice Cream” ranks garlic as number five on the list of 10 weirdest ice cream flavors. (No. 1: mashed potatoes and bacon; 2. tuna fish; 3. fried pork rind; 4. chile con carne.)

• The city of Chicago is named from the Native American word “chicagaoua” after the wild garlic that grew in that region of Illinois.

• “The Stinking Rose” is an all-garlic restaurant in San Francisco where you can get garlic ice cream and garlic cheesecake for dessert.

• The longest continuous string of garlic measures 123 feet and was made by villagers in Catsfield, England.

• Garlic is part of the lily family. There are two major types of garlic bulb: Allium Satinum Sativum, which has a soft neck and a long storage life, and Allium Sativum Ophioscordon, which has a hard neck and a short storage life, but is more flavorful.

• Too much information: Rub garlic on the heel of your foot and your pores will absorb the oils, circulate t through your blood, and the notorious garlic stink will show up on your breath.

Garlic Superstitions

• In ancient Egypt, people often swore on a clove of garlic when making an oath.

• People once believed that if you gnawed a bulb of garlic during a foot race, no one would be able to get ahead of you.

• A famous superstition is that garlic holds magical protective powers against werewolves, witches and, of course, vampires. So in the Middle Ages, braids of garlic cloves often hung around the necks of cows and children to protect them from evil.

• Dream of garlic and you’ll have good fortune.

• To prevent drowning, take garlic on trips on which you will cross over water.

• A watch dog that eats garlic on New Year’s Day will have a much more painful bite, according to German folklore.

• In Iranian New Year festivities (around March 21), tradition dictates that “seer” – or garlic – be laid on the table along with other symbolic ingredients to ward off evil spirits from the home.

• Spanish bullfighters wear a clove of garlic around their necks to protect themselves from the horns of the bull.

Growing Garlic Greens is a “Good Thing”

Domestic guru Martha Stewart probably won’t be growing much garlic from her prison cell for the next five or so months. But she considers it an easy project to grow garlic greens used to flavor salads.

“Slightly submerge three or four garlic cloves in a pot that contains soilless mix (such as vermiculite), and water lightly. Set pots in a sunny window, and in 7 to 10 days, you’ll have garlic greens ready for snipping.”

– MarthaStewart.com

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