Camelot Village in Bennington, VT swarmed with traffic from 10am to 5pm on the first weekend of September, as visitors in record numbers were drawn in by the peppery, pungent scent of bulbous garlic wafting through the late, warm summer air.
Southern Vermont Garlic and Herb Festival and Labor Day Weekend
What do garlic, herbs, maple syrup, and Labor Day weekend have in common? Quite a lot, actually, and it has been a happy marriage for 14 years, ever since Steven A. Wrathall, who also created the Wilmington Brushworks, Green Mountain Expeditions, and Local Flavor Farmstand, founded the event. According to the Festival’s website, Steven came to Vermont as a teenager with nothing but his motorcycle, knapsack, and a few hundred dollars. Full of life and apparently a very keen work ethic, the, by all accounts, warm and stalwart Steven Wrathall unexpectedly died this spring.
Therefore, the Festival this year was held in his honor and exuded a very palpable warm and caring spirit of excitement, where everyone seemed happy and friendly and glad to be together under a gloriously sunny blue Vermont sky. The festival coordinator, the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, reported more than 5,000 visitors the first day alone and its vendor list grew to 127, which was impressive for this cozy little festival.
Vermont Summer Weather Stats and Garlic Growing Info
It actually turned out to be a record year, in part because garlic was not as damaged as other crops by the relentless summer rains. Vermont got pounded mightily during June and July by rain this year, and, according to an article by the Times Argus, a newspaper out of Montpelier, the state’s capital, the July rainfall might have set records statewide.
Normal Vermont rainfall for July, based on numbers from 1970 to 2000, is apparently about 3.6 inches. This year, said one meteorologist, Vermont saw more than 7.4 inches of rainfall. In Montpelier alone, it typically rains 12 to 14 days in July; this year it fell on 22 of 31 days. That’s a lot of rain.
Garlic’s saving grace, as it turns out, is that it grows largely “out-of-sync” with most other crops. This is because garlic requires a cold treatment of about 40 degrees F for about 2 months to induce bulbing. In the Northeast that translates well to a fall planting – sometime in October – and late summer harvest. What this means is that garlic is not as dependent on fair summer weather as other crops, like tomatoes or corn.
Garlic Origins, Varieties, Facts, Stats, and Info
But, while perfectly adaptable to the climate in the Northeast (food historians think garlic originates from central Asia), choosing a variety to plant may be a bit of a tough choice. According to a University of Vermont article, naming and classifying garlic varieties is pretty much a free-for-all. Unlike other vegetables, which ascribe to the logical and orderly convention of rigorously naming and maintaining variety lines, the garlic seed stock has been largely developed by private individuals. These folks can name, describe, and sell their garlic any way they want and, as a general rule, pretty much do. Therefore, since true “varieties” don’t really exist anymore, different types of garlic are known as “strains” and may exhibit a range of different flavors and aromas or may be very similar.
The following list is only a very partial record of well-known garlic strains:
- Spansih Roja – Strong garlic flavor. Robust, not for the faint of heart.
- Italian Red/German Red/Romanian Red – Also strong and peppery.
- Italian White/German White – Very mild and starchy.
- Sylvania Redeye – Easy to peel and spicy.
- Brown Tempest – Hot to mellow.
- Carpathian Mahogany – Intense and spicy.
- Metechi – Ripping hot. Stores well.
- Italian Purple Stripe – Traditional “garlic flavor.”
- Marino – Zesty and mild.
- Killarney – Spicy-hot and lingers.
- Georgian Crystal – Flavorful with no lingering aftertaste.
- Ukrainian – A good roasting garlic.
- Siberian – Strong and Hot.
- Elephant Garlic – Most common in stores, though not garlic at but a member of the leek family.
And these are just the generics. Garlic growers and enthusiasts from all over boast their own “unique” varieties named after family pets, friends, and relatives, supposedly each with their own unique nuance of flavor, finish, and roasting attributes.
But raw garlic was not the only feature of the weekend. Vendors offered an impressive spread of Northeast garlic products , including scape pesto, garlic and hot pepper oil, potato-based garlic dip, garlic-wasabi aioli, garlic ice cream, garlic martinis, garlic bruschetta, garlic jelly, and garlic fudge. Of course, there were maple and herb vendors too (with offerings like chardonnay and herb dip or maple vodka), and they are certainly worth noting. But, then again, this article is about the Southern Vermont Garlic and Herb festival.