It was almost by chance that Ontario-born Peter McClusky stumbled upon his passion for garlic. After an almost failed attempt at a summer vegetable garden, the former NYC marketing specialist turned wannabe farmer decided he would give himself one more chance to fulfill his agricultural dream.
He discovered there were two crops he could plant that fall: tulips and garlic. A farmer friend sent him garlic bulbs, and the rest is garlic history.
McClusky fell in love with garlic and after several successful crop yields became an active proponent of the sturdy plant, launching the Toronto Garlic Festival in 2011, serving as the director of the Garlic Growers Association of Ontario, managing farmers’ markets and more.
Which brings us to his book, “Ontario Garlic: The Story from Farm to Festival,” a fun, light-hearted tribute to the trusty companion to so many of our meals, published in July by The History Press.
McClusky tackles many aspects of garlic, from its supposed origins in Central Asia thousands of years ago and its travels along the Silk Road, to its eventual arrival in Canada, particularly Ontario where it was once reviled or secretly enjoyed by one segment of the population and praised by another.
Through more than 150 interviews, archival research, and personal anecdotes, the author reveals the cultural clash that characterized Ontario for many decades, drawing class lines between the conservative non-garlic eating British and the so-called Garlic Eaters—a fragrant group of non-British immigrants, most of whom used garlic as a staple ingredient.
McClusky recounts several humorous stories as his interviewees recall their own family’s garlic fascinations or prejudices, which gradually gave way to the growing mainstream popularity of garlic in the 1980s when the prevalence of ethnic food, adventurous chefs, and the growing interest in local healthy fare gave garlic its proper due.
McClusky also covers the age-old medicinal benefits of garlic, its chemistry, as well as instructions on how to eat and grow it. He concludes with a rich collection of recipes courtesy of local chefs, restaurateurs, and farmers.
Although most garlic in stores is imported from China (due to its very low price), McClusky assures us there is plenty of locally grown garlic available for those willing to find it. He believes it is certainly worth the effort to try it. For those in Ontario, he has a list of local locations selling garlic on the Toronto Garlic Festival website.
“Ontario Garlic” is a fascinating read that can be enjoyed by food enthusiasts, historians, and anyone who appreciates a good laugh and an interesting story. It’s also useful material for classrooms, particularly through its lively discussion of social history.
And who knew that garlic could be used in desserts? Indeed, there are many new and interesting things about garlic to be learned, and along the way maybe we can learn a little about ourselves as well.
For those who want to explore more about garlic, there are several garlic festivals held across Canada. The Toronto Garlic Festival takes place Sunday, Sept. 20, at the Artscape Wychwood Barns. For more information, visit: www.torontogarlicfestival.ca
Here are a couple of recipes from the book to enjoy:
Chunky Tomato Garlic Tapenade
This tapenade goes well with lamb burgers, fish, pasta, and bruschetta, and is great in both summer and fall.
Makes 4 servings
475 ml (2 cups) grape cherry tomatoes, washed
6 plump garlic cloves, peeled, chopped finely in a food processor
60 ml (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
60 ml (1/4 cup) black olives, chopped
5 to 10 ml (1 to 2 tsp) fresh basil or rosemary, chopped
Pinch of salt to taste
Toss tomatoes, garlic, and oil in a medium-size bowl. Spread on a parchment-lined pan. Roast in oven preheated to 200º F (400º C) for approximately 10 minutes. Stir once or twice. Tomatoes should be hot, blistered, and wilted. Allow to cool. Add olives and basil (or rosemary). Refrigerate for up to one week.
Recipe courtesy of Dinah Koo, Chef/Owner, Peapods to Chanterelles
Black Garlic Brownies
Makes 9 to 12 brownies
110 g (6 tbsp) unsalted or salted butter (plus more to grease foil)
110 g (4 oz) semisweet milk chocolate chips
180 ml (3/4 cup) sugar
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
7 cloves of black/fermented garlic, chopped fine
60 ml (1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 175º F (350º C). Line a 20 cm (8-inch) square pan with foil or parchment paper, lightly buttered and extending over the pan’s edges. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add chocolate and stir by hand until melted and smooth. Remove saucepan from the heat. Stir in sugar and vanilla until combined. Beat in eggs by hand, one at a time. Stir in garlic. Add flour and stir energetically for one full minute, until batter loses its graininess, is smooth and glossy, and begins to pull away from sides of saucepan.
Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake until centre feels almost set, about 30 minutes. Do not overbake. Remove from oven. Let brownies cool completely in pan. While carefully holding foil or parchment, lift block of brownies out of the pan. Cut into squares. Brownies will keep well up to four days and can be frozen up to one month.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Anne Sorrenti, adapted from David Lebovitz’s “Absolute Best Brownies” recipe (Leite’s Culinaria)