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Native to the Caucasus region, garlic (Allium sativum) came to North America with European settlers in the colonial period. Of the ten recognized landraces, the varieties traditionally cultivated in the United States were Rocambole (whose stems undulated like snake trails), Soft necked (artichoke garlic), Silverskin, and Creole (a variety that was suited to southern climates). Those portions of the United States where Spanish influence was greatest—the south and southwest—showed greatest respect for the plant as a condiment. In 19th-century New England it was esteemed for medical rather than culinary reasons. The therapeutic uses now seem laughable: “wrapping a clove of garlic and putting it into the ear” to counteract deafness; dried and compacted into pills for consumption by persons affected by “vapours” or women’s “nervous disorders”; cooked into a syrup for “dropsical complaints, asthmas, and agues.”[1] The bulbous rooted member of the lily family had an irregular form in the early 19th century, but its signal distinctive feature—the partition of the root into a collect of cloves, each wrapped with white papery skin—was so pronounced that few mistook the plant upon first view. To cultivate the plant, a kitchen gardener dug and manured a bed, and using a dibble or other device to poke a row of holes 3 inches deep in the upturned soil, dropped a clove every cavity, covering them over. Planting took place in March, although an autumn crop might be put in during October. Spacing tended to 9 inches between rows and six inches apart—rather dense. When the leaves yellowed and began to wither (usually in July), they stood ready to harvest. Once harvested, they were cleaned and hung in a dry cool place for storage. William Cobbett, the English author of the American Gardener (1820) noted that “Almost all nations except the English, the Americans, and the French, make great and constant use of Garlick; and, even the French use it, frequently.”[2] Two varieties were in common cultivation during the antebellum period, the large and the small, referring to the size of the bulb, not the stalk.

Anglo distaste for garlic began to moderate in the 1850s, largely through the influence of French cookbooks, such as Louis-Eustache Audot’s French Domestic Cookery (1846). In 1857 the notably conservative William White observed, “a very slight, scarcely perceptible flavor, or as the French have it—a soupcon of garlic is not repugnant, but rather agreeable to most tastes.”[3] In the south in became popular as an ingredient in pickling, then, by Spanish and French influence, into the preparation of soups and stews. It was regarded either as a condiment or an ingredient in a composite dish, such as a stew. A southern stewpan had fat trimmings or bacon, an onion, a diced carrot, bay-leaf, garlic, stock & seasoning. Among genteel diners garlic inspired excessive concern for its ability to taint one’s breath. Cookbook writers frequent counseled the substitution of shallots for garlic as a boon to society. In those instance when garlic had to be used, instructions cautioned that it be prepared it in a manner minimizing its potency. The San Francisco master chef John Harder wrote, “Garlic, when used in a salad, should be rubbed on a crust of bread (called chapon). When used for stews and left whole, its flavor will not be strong and penetrating as when mashed or chopped, and gives to the preparation an appetizing and agreeable taste, especially in mutton stews” (p. 166).

Nineteenth-century cooks new perhaps three varieties of garlic, all of them soft skinned, rather than hard, with the exception of the Rocambole. The Common Garlic listed in the varieties sections is currently designated ‘the silverskin.’

1. “Garlic” New England Farmer 6, 12 (October 12, 1827),
2. “Garlick,” The American Gardener (London: C. Clement, 1821), entry #222.
3. “Allium sativum,” Gardening for the South (New York: C. M. Saxton, 1857), p. 128.

Common Garlic    History

-10 to 15 cloves enclosed in a semi-translucent silverish, thin papery skin. Pale pink umbel and black seeds.

Early Rose Garlic    History

-an earlier strain of the common garlic distinguished by its pink pellicle.

Great-headed Garlic    History

- a hardy perennial, with markedly larger umbel and cloves than the common garlic.

Rocambole    History

- preferred over common garlic by persons of refined taste. Native to the Mediterranean. Bulbs smaller than those of common garlic with a taste sweeter and more delicate.

Garlic Butter or Gascony Butter (Harder’s Practical Cookery 1885)    History

Boil one dozen cloves of Garlic for ten minutes. Then drain them and pound them in a mortar with a half a pound of butter. Add a little nutmeg and a pinch of red pepper, and when well mixed, rub it through a fine sieve and keep it in a cool place. (p. 166)

Garlic Gravy (Cook’s Own Book 1840)    History

Slice a pound and a half of veal, or beef; season it with pepper and salt; put it into a stewpan, with two carrots split, and four cloves of garlic sliced, a quarter of a pound of sliced ham, and a large spoonful of water; put the stewpan over a gentle fire, and watch when the meat begins to stick to the pan; when it does, turn it, and let it be very well browned, (but take are that it is not in the least burnt); then dredge it with flour, and pour in a quart of broth, a bunch of sweet herbs, a couple of cloves bruised, and slice in a lemon; set it on the fire again, then let it simmer gently for an hour and a half longer; then skim off the fat, and strain off the gravy, by pouring it through a napkin, straining and pressing it very hard. P. 84.

Roasted Garlic (Southern Planter 1846)    History

Garlic is thrown into five different boiling waters, with a little salt, and boiled five minutes in each. It is then drained, and put into the dripping pan under . . . roasting mutton. Southern Planter 9, 1 (January 1849), 25.

Puree of Garlic (Harder’s Practical Cookery 1885)    History

Peel one dozen Garlic bulbs and parboil them in plenty of water lightly salted, until they are cooked. Then drain them and put them in a saucepan with a piece of butter. Set it on a brisk fire to reduce the moisture. Season with salt and a pinch of red pepper and rub them through a fine sieve. Put the puree in a saucepan and add a few spoonfuls of reduced Espagnole sauce. Before serving, add a piece of butter. (p. 167)

Essence of Garlic (Cook’s Own Book 1840)    History

Take an earthen skillet, place it on the fire, and put into it a bottle of white wine, half a glass of vinegar, the juice of two lemons, six cloves of garlic, the same number of cloves, the quarter of a nutmeg, and two bay-leaves; when near boiling, reduce the fire, and let it stand on hot ashes for seven or eight hours; strain it through a coarse sieve, and then filter it. Keep it in very closely corked glass bottles. A very small quantity of this essence is requisite to impart its flavor to a dosh. (p. 84)

Garlic Pickle (Practical Housekeeper 1857)    History

Steep one quarter of a pound of ginger in strong salt and water for five days, then cut it into slices and dry it in the sun; put it into a large stone jar with a gallon of the best white-wine vinegar. Peel one pound of garlic, salt it well, and let it stand in the salt three days; wipe it, and dry it in the sun, then put it into the pickle; add also a quarter of a pound of long pepper steeped in salt and water and well dried, one pound of mustard seed bruised, and a quarter of a pound of turmeric. Shake these ingredients well in the jar, and add any thing that is desirable to pickle as it comes into season, salting and drying them previously in the sun. When completed the pickle should be kept a year or two before it is used. (P. 394)

Garlic Vinegar (Salads and Sauces 1884)    History

An excellent vinegar is made as follows: Put three ounces of bruised garlic-cloves into an earthen jar with a teaspoonful of coarse salt, four cloves, four peppercorns, half and ounce of whole-dried ginger; pour over these a quart of the best vinegar; let it infuse two weeks, strain, and put it into half-pint bottles; cork well. To those who will not use garlic in salads for flavoring this vinegar is recommended. (p. 122)