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A Passion For Garlic

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(Woodland, CA)
Friday, August 12, 2011

The stinking rose... garlic, and lots of it.  It's all over Perry Skinner's kitchen in Woodland. He's peeling a big bulb he grew. 

PERRY SKINNER: This is a Lorz Italian, and it has huge, huge bulbs. See the size of it? 

The individual cloves are bigger than a grown man's thumb. You may never have heard of the Lorz Italian, but it's one of the rare garlics that Skinner grows. As he peels the bulb, a flurry of garlic skins drifts onto a cutting board.

PERRY SKINNER: We keep quite a few papers on them…I call them papers, so that their life expectancy is a lot longer on the shelf.

Skinner is tall, but I've got him at eye level. He sits on a stool because his legs are frail. He pops the cloves out of the bulb.

PERRY SKINNER: These are… these are hard to get apart.

ELAINE CORN: It's a good sign of what... freshness?

0811 Garlic2PERRY SKINNER: Yes, well, it's a good sign of everything. And this is an absolutely perfect popper right here. Now, now we're getting down to the big cloves.

Skinner lightly smashes the cloves with the flat blade of a knife.

PERRY SKINNER: It's easier to peel for one thing, when you smash it. It brings out the flavors and the oils.

ELAINE CORN: Looks pretty juicy.

PERRY SKINNER: It IS juicy! Want to taste it?



ELAINE CORN: [chews] …oh my goodness, woooo! That is some kind of burn! It has the same kind of burn as a hot pepper.

PERRY SKINNER: It'll fade away after awhile. It's absolutely excellent garlic.

ELAINE CORN: So, if a recipe calls for 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, if you're using this, you might need half?

PERRY SKINNER: No, you just use this. It won't bother you a bit.

ELAINE CORN: I can even suck the juice out of it.

PERRY SKINNER: I know you can. You can't do that with that garlic they sell uptown. No way.

garlic chart"Uptown" to a country man like Skinner is a chain grocery store that sells commercial garlic, grown in the US or imported, by the ton.

PERRY SKINNER: Commercial garlic and our garlic people really don't see eye to on a lot of things. The price, number one, knocks it out. And they feel the same way. Garlic is garlic. It's all white garlic. It's just a blah tasting garlic.

Skinner's varieties are purple-splotched, pink-hued, rose-tinged , brown-blushed, each with its own mild or piercing flavor. Some cost up to $100 a seed. No matter the variety, garlic has never been short on lore. Like, vampires can't leave a grave if their mouths are stuffed with garlic. As folk remedy, garlic is credited for curing everything from leprosy to impotence.

Margaret Scheller, a dietician at Sutter Medical Center in Roseville, gives garlic its due, but with caution.

MARGARET SCHELLER: Garlic has a phytonutrient called ancillins that provides health benefits…possibly controlling blood pressure, cholesterol, some cancers, possibly, but scientific studies are inconclusive.

Perry Skinner has brought me to his garlic patch a few miles from his house. He takes a seat in an old metal rocker under a lemon tree -- just like he does every day during the seven months he watches his garlic grow.

0812 garlic patchPERRY SKINNER:  Now this is where I grow all my garlic. See those beds?

Sixteen raised beds are marked, each for a different variety -- Czechoslovakian Vekak, Gabi's Purple from Mexico, Simonetti from the Republic of Georgia, and a real stinger named Bogatyr from Russia.

PERRY SKINNER: The hardest thing about garlic is at harvest time.

Now, the beds are bare. Skinner yanked every bulb of garlic by hand, dried them and took them to Corti Brothers grocery store. Skinner says it's probably his last harvest. Even so, at age 84, Skinner knows garlic was the right crop for him.

PERRY SKINNER: You really can't be a good garlic grower until about 80 years old, unless you have patience -- and the love of garlic.

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