I think this might be the biggest crop of garlic I’ve ever grown. And by biggest, I mean the size of the bulb — at least 3 inches across, with many of them spanning over 4 inches! (And no, this isn’t elephant garlic — which, oddly, is not a true garlic but a type of leek.)
The mammoth garlic is a new variety for me this season: Inchelium Red, a softneck Artichoke garlic that went in the ground in late October and was pulled in early June (hardiness zone 10b).
Softneck Artichoke garlics are so called because their stems are soft and pliable, and their bulbs develop in a crown of overlapping cloves that resemble an artichoke. A common example of an Artichoke garlic is the California Early variety popularized in Gilroy and found in supermarkets all over the state. (I say popularized because there’s speculation on how much of that garlic is still grown in Gilroy, or anywhere in the Central Valley. More than half of the nation’s garlic is shipped in from China; that means something as simple as garlic is making its way across the Pacific in a cargo container, to your neighborhood, as you read this. Silly, I know.)
Because we typically only see one type of garlic in the store, that makes homegrown garlic all the more special. Garlic is not just garlic. It comes in a range of flavors from mild to hot and a spectrum of colors from white to purple. My favorite is usually the spicy Creole varieties, but the mildness of Inchelium Red makes it perfect for roasting and eating on its own. If you like sweet and juicy roasted garlic, this is the one for you.
Despite the name, Inchelium Red is not red at all. The skin has just the slightest tinge of pink, but is primarily a white-skinned garlic. Its cloves are fairly heavy and dense, in contrast to other garlic (especially Chinese garlic) that have more water content. Each bulb has 2 to 3 layers of cloves with 6 to 8 cloves circling the stem. There are no small cloves in this variety; a single one measures a hefty inch tall by inch wide, which also makes it easier to peel.
Being an Artichoke garlic, it should keep through all of winter. Its massive size means I’ll spend at least a month (if not more) curing it for storage. But to be able to bite into this magnificent garlic in January? It’s worth the wait.