Of all the events Becky has brought me to this summer, the Garlic Festival in Hutchinson, MN, was one I looked forward to and feared at the same time. When the flyers tell people that the kickoff to the event will be next to the garlic with lipstick, warning bells ring.
Hutchinson is only an hour’s drive west, so it wasn’t even the longest drive we’ve done for such events around the cities. And it gave us a chance to take in a relaxing drive through Minnesota countryside. The sumac is starting to turn red in spots, a sad reminder of the nearing end of summer (that and the proliferation of back to school ads).
The McLeod County Fairgrounds hosted the event (along with some races at the adjoining track at the same time).
The nice thing about the festival: Most of it is inside or in shady areas, a real bonus on a sunny day.
Becky and I cruised through the first building lined with various vendors, some of which were garlic related. Found the garlic with lipstick (see featured pic), and it surpassed even my wildest nightmares. Gertie, the sly minx, will haunt my nightmares for years to come.
I love garlic. I need to say that. I have 5 bulbs on my counter at home ready for any impromptu Italian or Chinese stirfry, which is often during the summer farmer’s market months. Becky has a good nose for when I’ve had garlic and can smell it on me even a day later. Garlic is my friend. So are green onions. And chives. One of these is found in about 90 percent of what I make.
But even I thought “that’s just too far” when I saw a whole roasted garlic bulb offered as a food choice at the ala carte dining tent.
Garlic wine? It’s something you think you should try, just to see. A morbid curiosity of the taste buds. After all, we add wine to sauces filled with garlic, right? No, you are wrong. Sure, garlic wine tastes ok as you sip it, even nicely sweet. But once you take your first breath, in or out, that wine is going to make you pay. Some things are not meant to exist, even if we can make them.
You will wonder what you did to deserve this. Why your curiosity doesn’t deserve to have an honorable mention in the Darwin awards. I got Becky to try it, even fully knowing I said it was gross. She concurs with this assessment.
Next we entered the building wherein a 20-30 person deep line led us to get garlic ice cream.
“WTF Joel, You just got done trying garlic wine. Why the hell would you follow up that brilliant idea with ice cream?”
Yeah, I know. But when you drive an hour to get to a place, you need to at least try out the odd things. And in the end, the ice cream wasn’t that bad compared to the wine. You just had to spit out the chunks of garlic like watermelon seeds.
Becky and I then waited for the parade of oddities to pass us by, and we weren’t disappointed. Led by the St. Paul Police Bagpipers, who were awesome. You can watch all one minute of it here.
Time for food – and this is where the event shined. They managed to get some pretty top notch restaurants involved, including the Bachelor Farmer and Haute Dish. We had a fantastic marinated vegetable sandwich from The Bachelor Farmer; Heirloom Tomatoes with balsamic, garlic honey vinaigrette, basil, pepper and fancy salt; and a garlic sausage in Bakersfield fermented bun with garlic pickled mustard seed aioli from Red Table. All of it was amazing. And while we ate they had a demonstration on making a black bean and quinoa burger from the Birchwood Café.
The weird thing about that, and many cooking shows, is how often they say to only use fresh herbs. While good advice in many cases, out in the country, if you don’t grow it, you don’t get it fresh. Yes, rosemary is much better when I can trim a bit off our plant on the balcony, but sometimes it just isn’t an option. And spending 4 bucks for fresh herbs I’ll only use a little bit of and throw the rest away after a week is ridiculous. Quit pushing your fresh herbs on me, society!
Then it was time for the big event for us. Perusing the 100 varieties of locally grown garlic (guaranteed to not have garlic bloat). Problem is, I don’t know the difference between one type of garlic and another, and the descriptions were only vaguely helpful. I got four different types to bring home. After paying the guy, I asked:
“So you ever do a blind taste test to see if you can tell the difference?”
“Yeah, there are some distinct flavors in each one…”
“But can you tell if they are cooked in a dish?”
Here are pics and descriptions of the particular garlic we bought from an informational sheet.
“Music is a large, beautiful and well-formed porcelain garlic but with more color than most porcelains. Its flavor is very rich and musky, strong and robust. It is warm but not overly hot.”
“Metechi – marbled purple stripe possibly originated in the Republic of Georgia. The plants are more upright and broader leaved than others and has large bulbil capsule and bulbils. The bulbs are nicely colored and very firm. Cloves are few, but large and fat, with blushed and lined skins that are thick. Long storing. Raw it tastes fiery but with a nice finish.”
“German Extra Hardy – Vigorous grower with long roots that enable it to overwinter without heaving out of the ground. Outside skin is ivory-white, but the clove skin is dark read. Strong raw flavor, high sugar content, one of the very best for roasting. Hardneck.”
“Armenian – Beautiful, symmetrical bulbs with about 6 large, easy-to-peel cloves per bulb with earthy, intense flavor when enjoyed raw. Baked, Armenian retains its rich, full-bodied garlic flavor.”
So, lots of varieties – helpful if you like chewing on raw garlic I guess, but for the rest of us commoners, not so much. Also – they had crafts made of garlic.
So after about 90 minutes to 2 hours, Becky and I made our way back to the car, waved at a ton of geese that seemed to be plotting right outside the fairgrounds, and headed home, the taste of garlic coating our mouths and filling our nostrils for hours to come.