Making a Garlic Braid

Making a Garlic Braid

Part of Ep. 504 Harvest Creations

Store your garlic in a fun and unusual way.  Peg Whiteside demonstrates how easy it is to create a garlic braid.

Premiere date: Jul 31, 1997

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
We're in the heirloom vegetable garden back at Schumacher Farm Park in Waunakee. And we're going to talk about a crop that's been around forever, garlic. We're also going to show you how you can make your own braid just like this. They may look complicated, but they're very easy to make. To help me is volunteer Peg Whiteside. Peg, you've done this with garlic and onions.

Whiteside:
That's right.

Shelley:
It's something just about anybody can do.

Whiteside:
Almost anybody. It's really quite simple.

Shelley:
But first, we need the right supplies.

Whiteside:
That's right.

Shelley:
The first thing we need is...

Whiteside:
Garlic. Long about the end of July, first part of August, is usually when my garlic is ready. It depends on the weather conditions and the variety that you're raising.

Shelley:
So, it might be a little later for a cool summer.

Whiteside:
Right.

Shelley:
Is there anything to look for when we're actually out in the garden to say, "Oh, it's ready."

Whiteside:
Yeah. The garlic will tell you. When it starts falling over and looking pretty dead like this, then it's ready to braid.

Shelley:
So, it's stopped growing.

Whiteside:
Yeah, it's done.

Shelley:
This is what happens, pretty much, with onions, too, isn't it?

Whiteside:
Yes, they're very similar

Shelley:
So, then, should you yank them out of the ground?

Whiteside:
No, dig them out. If you try yanking them out, chances are you're going to wind up with a handful of top and no bulb.

Shelley:
It's real hard to braid that.

Whiteside:
Real hard.

Shelley:
And if you've got a heavy clay soil, that's what's going to happen. Now, if you dig them up properly, you should end up with bulbs that look like this. They're pretty big, they're healthy. Now, these are nice and clean, too.

Whiteside:
Yeah, and if you dig when it's dryer, you'll get the cleaner bulbs.

Shelley:
Okay. Then, what's the next step before braiding?

Whiteside:
They need to be cured.

Shelley:
Okay, but first, we have to make sure they look like this. If we try to do it too early, they're going to be a little harder to work with.

Whiteside:
That's right.

Shelley:
Over here, we've got some garlic that's been curing for a couple of weeks. Let's talk about why we cure garlic.

Whiteside:
Two reasons, basically. One is to get the moisture out of the stem. As you're braiding these stems together, it's a good place for mold to form if the they're still too wet. The other reason is to harden off the outside skin of the bulb, itself, so it keeps better.

Shelley:
It stores longer. Well, it looks like you do it the same way I do it. You lay it on newspaper, someplace where it's not going to get rained on and where there's good circulation. Generally, leave them for a couple of weeks or until the stems start to bend, like this.

Whiteside:
Right, you don't want the stem to get too brittle.

Shelley:
Then you'd have a problem. This is also when I start to gently brush the dirt off of the bulbs. If you do it when it comes right out of the ground, they're too soft and you could bruise them easily.

Whiteside:
Right. They wouldn't keep very well.

Shelley:
Braiding is something that's been around for a long time.

Whiteside:
Oh, yeah, I think so. Probably for centuries. It's basically a real convenient way to store garlic. You know, it's easy to hang a string of garlic up. When you need some, all you do is snap off a bulb and you're in business.

Shelley:
You also get good air circulation, and it's attractive. Show us how you start.

Whiteside:
Okay. Anybody that's ever braided anything can do this. There's no real secret to it. Except, maybe getting my fingers where I need them.

Shelley:
This is a problem I've had with it. In fact, it took me a long time to get over this problem of holding them.

Whiteside:
Okay, here we go.

Shelley:
Now, you've started.

Whiteside:
Yep.

Shelley:
Now, one thing, when I'm trying to do this alone and I don't have anyone to hold them, like that, is I just tie a piece of twine around the first three. Otherwise, they just keep falling apart on me.

Whiteside:
That would work, too.

Shelley:
Now, you just keep braiding, and you cut them in as you go.

Whiteside:
Right. As you go, you just add another bulb or two.

Shelley:
Another problem-- maybe it's just the way I do it-- I'm always being interrupted. I thought you had a wonderful solution to that. Basically, you just stop wherever you're braiding and put a clothespin in. That seems to hold it very nicely. This is a tighter, more decorative braid. This is also the time when I take the scissors and just snip off the roots.

Whiteside:
Right.

Shelley:
You know, what's interesting, the reason this braid is so much tighter, is these have dried a little bit more.

Whiteside:
Yes. These are much thicker stems and there is a lot more moisture in them.

Shelley:
They're juicy.

Whiteside:
They're going to be a pretty massive wad, here, by the time we get much further. One way you can get around that is to cut off all but about six inches, and just have a shorter stem.

Shelley:
I tried that on an earlier one and miscalculated. I cut way too much off and had nothing left to braid with.

Whiteside:
That can happen.

Shelley:
You have a solution to that. This also points out that you can do this with onions.

Whiteside:
Oh, yes.

Shelley:
What happened here?

Whiteside:
Well, I waited too long to harvest them, and all the tops were already way too brittle. So, I just used a couple of pieces of baling twine, started to braid and then inserted the short stems of the onions into the twine braid.

Shelley:
And that would work with garlic, too.

Whiteside:
Oh, yeah, easily. This also works nicely when you're dealing with something as heavy as onions, especially if you make a three-foot braid, like I do. It gets to be a lot of weight, and having the extra strength of the baling twine helps a lot.

Shelley:
So, it supports it. How long of a braid do you usually make of garlic?

Whiteside:
It depends on how much garlic I have in any given year.

Shelley:
So, some years you make long braids, some years you have really short braids. Now, when you get done with this, again, you have to tie off the top, even if--

Whiteside:
Yes. You need to tie the top off. And a loop like this really helps for hanging.

Shelley:
I usually hang them where I can see them because they're pretty. But if I wanted them to last all winter, you have a better solution to that.

Whiteside:
In the basement, they stay better. Or, if you had a sort of heated garage, that would work, too.

Shelley:
Relatively cool and dry.

Whiteside:
Right. Here's one I think we can't use for the braid. It stayed in the ground a little bit too long.

Shelley:
That one should have been harvested earlier. But there's a better solution with something like this. You just take the cloves off and store them in a cool, dry spot. But then, come October, plant them in the ground. Put them about two inches under the soil and then add a good layer of mulch. I usually use a good five inches of mulch. They'll be the first things to come up next spring in your garden. There are a couple of varieties you might like to try. This one is a German stiff neck variety. It's real tough to braid, but great flavor and an excellent keeper. This is called New York Right. It's very easy to braid. It's a soft neck variety. Both of these are heirlooms and they're worth trying.

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