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Great bulbs of fire! August 31, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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It’s garlic harvest time here in Pennsylvania, and fresh garlic is everywhere. Each week, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have been receiving a head of organic garlic from our CSA (that’s consumer-supported agriculture, aka subscription truck farming; see our post “Hip, hip hooray for the CSA!” for more on this great way to sign up for the freshest, best, most interesting veggies—and often fruits and more—in town). A farm down our road has a big, handwritten “GARLIC FOR SALE” sign at the head of their drive. Garlic is (mercifully, not literally) in the air.

So of course, our friend Ben and Silence jumped at the chance to head up to the Poconos to attend the Pocono Garlic Festival yesterday. The festival is held at Shawnee Mountain Ski Resort near East Stroudsburg and Marshall’s Creek the last weekend of August (continuing today, for anyone close enough to attend), from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Once you find the general area, there are signs to help you on your way to the actual festival site.

Our friend Ben and Silence had not been to a garlic festival, so our only frame of reference was the Bowers Chile Pepper Festival (coming up next weekend, September 5th and 6th, in the tiny crossroads of Bowers, PA). We were (no surprise to those who know our friend Ben) arriving towards the end of the day, around 4, so we were pleased to see that the extensive parking area was still full. We were less pleased to be docked $10 each for the privilege of attending, more than a movie ticket in these parts, but then again, we hoped this would prove to be more entertaining than a movie, and it was supporting local farmers, so why not?

After paying up and being banded like a couple of colorful Amazon parrots (our friend Ben was attired in a tomato-red Hawai’ian shirt to complement Silence’s tomato-red top and flowing Indian paisley skirt), we were off like a herd of turtles. That’s because the bridge to the festival passes over a large, lovely lake with hardy native waterlilies as well as clamoring Canada geese, mallards, and turtles, which were being fed by a sizable crowd. Silence loves turtles, and somehow managed to part the crowd, park herself at the rail, and lean out over the water’s surface, oohing and ahhing as each turtle swam to the surface from the nearest mass of water lilies. Deaf to our friend Ben’s entreaties, she only recovered her hearing when the Canada geese, who clearly didn’t appreciate having to compete for treats, had apparently driven the turtles off.

Moving on, we were simultaneously assaulted by a riot of heavenly smells from a seemingly endless assortment of food and an assortment of live music, with people performing everything from Billy Joel (oh, no, not that) to country dance tunes (we noticed quite a few dancers in the crowd who’d edged up to that particular stage and were rocking out). Not that we don’t love music, but between Billy Joel and country dance classics, we felt the food was definitely the winner for our attention.

Booths offered an incredible assortment of food, from popcorn and pulled pork to, I quote, turkey on a stick, to baba ghannouj and hummus, to baklava and garlic ice cream. (Garlic ice cream?!!) No, we did not try any of this, much as we (especially) love baba ghannouj, the smoky Middle Eastern eggplant pate, since we’d had a huge lunch seemingly minutes before. Our friend Ben fears that Silence mortally offended at least one vendor by actually running away when she was offered a plastic cup of homemade garlic vinegar to drink. We limited our purchases to another Lebanese booth, where Silence, after some not-too-subtle hinting by our friend Ben, acquired a square of homemade halwah (a sesame candy, aka halvah, that’s not to everyone’s taste—in fact, most of our friend Ben’s friends hate halwah—but if it does happen to appeal to you, you can’t resist it) and some apricot paste for future curries and chutneys.

This particular booth also featured a large assortment of jewelry, including eyeball-themed jewelry that’s traditionally worn or carried throughout the Middle East and Greece to ward off the evil eye, and coin-encrusted scarves and the like, apparently intended for aspiring belly dancers. Silence bypassed these but couldn’t resist an eyeball keychain (mind you, these aren’t real representations of eyeballs, like glass eyes, but instead are blue beads with black central dots, stylized representations of blue eyes with pupils). Our friend Ben can only say, too bad they weren’t selling lottery-winning eyes.

Of course, there were plenty of other crafts, including garlic-themed jewelry, ceramics, and hand-carved boxes. Our friend Ben dragged Silence away from some lovely ceramic garlic keepers, and she pointed out to a mesmerized Ben that the handmade chess set I was drooling over was too much of an extravagance, given that we already had several sets and were, after all, just beginners. But we did see some wonderful crafts, including whimsical jewelry and hand-knitted footwear and mittens from one couple’s own alpacas.

The real highlight for us, though (besides smelling all that heavenly food), was the garlic itself. Lifetime organic gardeners ourselves, we were thrilled to see how many farmers proudly announced that their many varieties of garlic were organically grown. Beautiful garlic braids competed with abundant bins of fat bulbs and highly practical mesh “stockings” of bulbs, with a knot after each bulb so the cook could cut off a bulb without unleashing the whole thing. One patriotic farmer was selling these garlic stockings in your choice of red, white, or blue mesh. Our friend Ben and Silence enjoyed seeing all the types of garlic that were available, from ‘German Red’ and ‘German White’ to ‘Georgian Crystal’, ‘Siciliano’, ‘Inchelium Red’, ‘Asian Tempest’, ‘Russian Redstreak’, ‘Purple Cauldron’, ‘Creole Red’, ‘Persian Star’, ‘Music’, and many, many more, including, of course, the giant ‘Elephant’ garlic.

We also encountered numerous purveyors of garlic-themed culinary products, from garlic-infused oils and vinegars to a honey farmer who not only sold the most gorgeous honey we’ve ever seen, but had some special garlic and hot garlic honey on offer. (We could see it on baked, roasted, or barbecued chicken.) Even the handmade soap booth was offering garlic soap, doubtless essential if you live in vampire country. (We’ll pass, thanks.)

Too bad no one was offering a garlic-themed blindfold to help get Silence off the bridge and away from the turtles on the way out…



1. Jupiter - August 31, 2008

What’s wrong with Billy Joel music ? It sounds like a great soundtrack for great food.

The force (of popular opinion, anyway) is certainly with you on this one, Jupiter! We ourselves would prefer something a little spicier to go with the garlic theme—reggae, salsa, flamenco…

2. ceecee - September 1, 2008

Sound like a wonderful time. My dh and I have a rule–we both have to eat onions or garlic so we can kiss later. He hold onto his garlic for days and the scent comes from every pore.

Yeah, that’s the thing about garlic, isn’t it—tastes great at the time, then that aftertaste just keeps on going, seemingly forever. (We loved the banner over one garlic vinegar booth that proudly proclaimed “Eat, Drink, Stink!”) That’s why we almost always use sweet onions instead—no aftertaste!

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