Right now, farmers markets are bursting at the seams with fresh produce ranging from apricots to zucchini. Gabrielle Langholtz, the editor of Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn magazines, said that she'd easily pass up all of that and beeline straight to the garlic, if she had to choose.
"Things at the farmers market are sometimes more delicious because they're a lot fresher, and certainly at this time of the year we see that with things like corn and peaches and tomatoes," Langholtz said. "You just can't compete with something that's been shipped across the country or around the world. But sometimes they're really more delicious because they're a different breed—if it's animal—or variety. And that's the case with garlic."
The garlic Langholtz highly prefers is called "hardneck" or "topsetting" garlic. It's usually only available at farmers markets, and she said it's is far more flavorful than "softneck" garlic, which is industrially grown and uniformly available in grocery stores year-round. The reason hardneck garlic is generally only grown by smaller farms is because the harvesting is much more labor intensive: During its growth cycle, the plant produces a flower which must be removed.
When comparing the difference in taste between the two different types of garlic, Langholtz painted a vivid contrast using a metaphor likely to strike a cord with farmers market regulars. "I would compare it to the difference between a really ripe, heirloom tomato at the farmers market and one of those hard pink things you get at the bodega on a little Styrofoam tray," she said.
Unlike softneck garlic, hardneck garlic has a tough stem that extends from the middle of the bulb. That's the stem that produces edible garlic scapes (long, curly green stalks) in the spring.
"If I had my pick, [garlic] is the one thing at the farmers market that I just cannot live without and this is the best time of year to eat it," she said. "Garlic, like people, takes nine months to grow. So farmers will be planting the individual cloves in October or November." That means the garlic available right now was recently harvested and still has much of its natural oils.
Langholtz, who farmed garlic years ago in upstate New York, explains that fresh garlic is milder and almost sweet, making it particularly delicious to eat raw. Older garlic that has been stored in barns loses that quality with time. "It begins to turn bitter and acrid—and that's what most people have eaten their whole lives," she said. "So if you think you don't like raw garlic, it's just that you haven't tried the fresh stuff."
Finally, demand is another reason to buy garlic now, according to Langholtz. The largest bulbs of garlic are being purchased now, so as the season continues the bulbs will get smaller and smaller.
Below, try a super easy recipe that uses fresh, raw garlic combined with a few of summer's most prized fruits: peaches and tomatoes.
Peach Salsa with Tomatoes and Basil
Courtesy of GrowNYC
- 3 ripe but firm stone fruits: nectarines, peaches, or apricots (4-5), or a combination
- 3 large tomatoes, cut into large dice
- 1 red onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 20 leaves basil, ripped
- ½ small bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
- ½ small bunch parsley, roughly chopped
- 3 lemons, juiced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
*If making ahead, add fruit just before serving.