Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Stinking Rose by Any Other Name...

   Garlic is one of those fundamental ingredients, a thing no cook can do without. I love the taste-from biting to sweet depending on how it's handled but never thought much about the kind of garlic I was using or where it came from. Then I started buying locally grown heirloom varieties and discovered how much better- and more varied- it can be. A few years ago the husband got interested in growing our own, in part because the neighborhood deer were devouring everything we planted and he'd heard this was one crop they didn't find appealing.
Thaxton's garlic, Taxel's photo
   He bought and planted a starter selection from Thaxton's, a certified organic garlic farm in Hudson. The results were so fantastic and the effort so satisfying that garlic has become his new enthusiasm and the mainstay of our backyard kitchen garden. Which is why we recently found ourselves in Fred and Chris Thaxton's aromatic garlic barn.
It was time for new seed stock. The choices- hard necks and soft necks, big heads and little ones, pure white skinned and some kissed with purple, in 12 distinctive varieties- were hung in bunches, long stems still attached, row after row on racks that stretched from floor to ceiling. The couple, who started growing garlic on their property 15 years ago for their own use and to share with family and friends, now tend to three acres of the stuff and operate a thriving business, delivering to area chef's, and selling at the Hudson Farmers Market, directly from the farm (by appointment only) and online. They guided us towards a mix that included a peppery Spanish Roja; Khabar that's hot when raw and goes mellow with cooking; the robust Extra Hardy German White; and Georgian Crystal, that Chris told us is excellent for roasting.
  She still teaches at Hudson High but Fred retired from his science teacher job at Cleveland Heights High School last year to give the venture his all. Business is booming. What started as hobby landed them on the pages of the New York Times in May (and brought the paper's food writer Julia Moskin to their house for a picnic dinner that Fred says it was one of the best nights of his life). He gives Chef Jonathon Sawyer, a longtime customer and fan, a lot of the credit for pushing them onto a national stage.  And Sawyer's doing it again by featuring Thaxton's Music garlic in a pasta dish he's serving at The Greenhouse Tavern through Oct 31 as part of the James Beard Foundation’s (JBF) Taste America® Local Dish Challenge. The restaurant will donate $1 from each dish sold to the JBF Taste America® Education Drive, which supports the foundation's educational programs.
 Now that I've got you thinking about garlic, its a good time to mention the Cleveland Garlic Festival, sponsored by the North Union Farmer's Market, happening this weekend, September 7 and 8, on Shaker Square. Lots of garlic laden foods to try, garlic products to buy, live music, chef competitions, and a chance to pick up some  "stinking roses"  from the Thaxton's.

Thaxton's garlic, Taxel's photo


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