Garlic is one of our oldest herbs, with origins traced back to India and the Middle East. In Greek Mythology, Circe, an evil sorceress, was foiled from changing Odysseus into a pig because he wore a charm made from Moly, a wild garlic native to the region.
The Egyptians gave the slaves building the Cheops pyramid garlic to help them keep up their strength during the harsh conditions they were subjected to while building it.
Due to the antibacterial properties of garlic, it was commonly used during war as a dressing for wounds to help fight infection as late as World War II. The Romans believed that garlic made their soldiers strong during warfare so each soldier ate it before battle in an effort to give them an advantage over their foes.
And, of course, everyone knows that wearing a garland of garlic around your neck will keep vampires at bay!
Modern research has attributed the regular intake of garlic with the ability to fight infection by helping the immune system and lowering cholesterol levels in the blood, which can aid in the reduction of blood pressure. In some studies, it has been shown to be helpful in lowering blood sugar levels, which is helpful in controlling diabetes.
The absolute best way to store garlic over the winter is by placing the bulbs in cold storage.
Once the upper garlic leaves have browned and died back, lift the garlic cloves from the ground with a gardening fork to carefully bring the bulbs to the surface, knocking off as much of the dirt as possible. If at all possible, leave the garlic cloves out to dry slightly in the sun for a few days. If the weather does not cooperate, bring the cloves inside and spread out in a single layer in order to allow the outer skins to dry out. After a few days, gather the garlic cloves up and either braid the brown stalks into a rope and hang the garlic rope in a cool, dry place until ready to use, or, place the garlic cloves on an open rack on the cold storage tray with room between the cloves to allow air circulation. The garlic cloves should last through the winter for use in cooking. Care must be taken to keep the area cool, but not freezing, and out of direct sunlight.
The storage racks can be as fancy as wooden trays that all fit together in an airing rack or as simple as cardboard lined milk crates packed with shredded newspaper and kept in your unheated garage or basement. As long as the temperatures do not dip below freezing and the crates are out of direct sunlight the garlic should stay fresh. Cover the milk crates or drying rack with a blanket to keep the temperatures more constant after the outer skins of the bulbs have dried..
I made some garlic ropes and was particularly happy with the results of one, so I hung it in my kitchen over the winter months. When I decided to use it, I discovered that the bulbs looked perfect, but the bulbs were hard and dry. They had died out with the heat of the kitchen! The others, I hung in the basement, and, although they were older, were not rocks!
Garlic ropes are perhaps the most common way that people have seen garlic drying. These are beautiful and add a touch of rustic charm to your kitchen and are always welcomed as useful, unique gifts by your favorite chef.
Garlic cloves can be stored in extra virgin olive oil in a sealed jar in the coldest place in your refrigerator for short periods of time. Storing garlic in oil is not a long-term solution to winter storage. This can be used like fresh garlic. If you are looking for a long-term solution to garlic stored in oil, the container must be frozen in small batches to keep it fresh. Simply peel the garlic cloves and fill into a small, clean jar with a tight fitting lid. Pour olive oil over the garlic, seal and place in the refrigerator's coldest shelf. It will last approximately one week or so. If you notice small bubbles escaping from the garlic, do not use it. The garlic flavored oil can be used for cooking or salad dressings and is a favorite dip for Italian bread. If your heart is set on storing the garlic in olive oil, dry it first so that there will be no risk of any contamination or spoilage.
REMEMBER: A little bit a garlic goes a long way!
Garlic can be dried to use in sauces, soups and meat rubs and kept for much longer periods of time. When using in recipes, it can be used as fresh garlic. To reconstitute, simply add a small amount of dried garlic to either olive oil, vinegar or water and allow to soak for a few minutes.