I’m sure that in real life the fictional heroine of my novel, The Stuart Agenda, would have been a big garlic fan, lacing her recipes with the most potent edible member of the allium family, Allium sativum. She would probably have chosen, Ail rose de Lautrec, a pink variety from Lautrec in
which has protected geographical status, a kind of appellation contrôllée for garlic. This control system is widely used in France, Italy and as well, yet another manifestation of the anti-competitive mentality of our Southern European friends. Spain
British folk tend to be over impressed by the plaits hanging up in French markets and imagine that garlic will only grow in hot countries. In fact it also grows very well in temperate climes and now that the season of mellow fruitfulness has passed, it is time to get the cloves into the ground before the frosts start. Any good well drained garden soil will do, adding a dash of lime and general fertiliser before planting.
This year my local garden centre had run out of seed cloves, presumably after the remaining fat lady, Clarissa Dixon Wright, had waxed eloquent about the joys of the pungent little bulbs on one of her cookery programmes. I turned to mail order from The Isle of Wight Garlic Farm and got a mixed trial pack of Tuscany Wight and Lautrec Wight, the names betraying the origins of the original stock, now naturalised in southern English soil, entirely in keeping with EU migration rules. I also got some elephant garlic and separately bought a few bulbs of French Thermidrome to give me a bulk crop.
Ancient history records the early culinary use of garlic as well as its application as a folk medicine for all manner of ailments. The medical myth that has persisted into modern times is that garlic is good for the heart and many garlic containing potions can be found on the market. Sadly, rigorous large scale clinical trials have debunked that myth as well.
In Europe, many cultures regarded it as a powerful deterrent against werewolves and vampires, so writers in those horror genres might hang a clove or two round their necks to protect themselves from their own literary creations.
Finally, if garlic consumption leaves you with that certain odeur de corps, then at least you can explain to your friends, standing at a distance, that it is entirely due to the substance, allyl methyl sulphide, a chemical constituent of garlic that enters the blood stream and finds its way into sweat and heaven forbid, breath. As a chemist, I had to get that one in.
The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at willowmoonpublishing.com, Barnes and Noble, amazon.com and amazon.co.uk