Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cat Mint and Green Garlic

In the late spring last year, I went up to Burlington to visit my friend Abby. Her garden was gorgeous (she's done a much better job of timing things so that lots of things are blooming at once), and I noticed a mound-like plant with light green leaves and light purple flowers. I asked her what it was, and she seemed surprised that I didn't know. It was cat mint, she told me (not to be confused with cat nip, though cats apparently love it). She said it didn't spread excessively (like regular mint) and bloomed much of the summer. What was there not to like?

The funny thing was that after that, I saw cat mint everywhere. Even though I've been looking at gardens and flowers for years, somehow, I'd missed it, and once I'd been alerted to it, suddenly I could focus, and there it was wherever I looked. When I went to Ragdale a few weeks later, I noticed immediately that the gardens were full of cat mint.

Of course, I had to get some for my own garden. I now have one plant in the bed next to the back door and one in the main part of my garden. The plants are still relatively small, but I'm looking forward to it being a garden staple.

This year's cat mint, I've realized, is green garlic. I've been planting garlic for years. Every fall, I stock up on bulbs from the farmer's market, and at some point in October or even November, I plant the bulbs and cover them with mulch. (Occasionally, I've gotten them in in the nick of time, the last possible moment before the ground has frozen for the winter.) Every spring, I'm delighted to see the green shoots of the garlic coming up, but I've never pulled any up then. I always wait til later in the summer to dig up the whole bulb.

A few weeks ago, I was reading my new favorite food blog, Orangette, and I was intrigued by a recipe for spinach and green garlic soup. As it happened, I realized that I actually had green garlic in my garden. I wasn't willing to sacrifice the garlic I'd planted last summer, but in my garden at home, there was some garlic I hadn't pulled up last summer that was re-sprouting, and I figured that counted as green garlic. So, I dug it all up, washed it off and made this soup, which was very easy to make and delicious to boot.

Then, this past weekend at the farmers' market, I noticed that three different stands had green garlic in various sizes. (This may happen every spring, but somehow, I'd never noticed it before.) Of course, I felt compelled to buy some from everyone, hence the big, bigger, biggest display. One of the stands had a recipe sheet also, and on it was another recipe for green garlic soup. That recipe consisted mostly of potatoes, green garlic and stock (whereas the first one consists mostly of spinach, green garlic, and stock), and for the hell of it, I added a potato to the spinach soup when I made it on Monday. (It was just as good as, if not better than, the first batch.)

So, now I'm committed to having some green garlic in my garden. (I have to admit it was a pricey pot of soup, given the $5 worth of green garlic, the bag of baby spinach from the grocery store and the stock from a box.) When I plant garlic in the fall, I'm going to plant it extra thickly (usually there are 6 inches between bulbs) and harvest some in the spring as green garlic. But I also got a tip from another green garlic blog post that I'm going to try now--her suggestion is to plant individual garlic cloves in the spring and just pick it as baby garlic. It certainly seems worth a shot, and if it works, that means that the green garlic season can extend into early summer, and I can eat more of that lovely soup.

1 comment:

Kitt said...

Yum! Good idea to use your sprouting clovers. Asian markets also sell garlic shoots quite cheaply. I got kind of tired of it in China, where there seemed to be a stir-fried dish of it every meal, but it would be good in scallion pancakes, I'll bet.

Funny how you learn about a plant and then see it everywhere. Hibiscus was like that for me last summer.