Mikestrathdee’s Blog

Garlic, and remembering Dad
August 20, 2014, 3:17 pm
Filed under: gardening, Generosity, Tributes | Tags: , , , , ,

This summer’s garlic harvest was bittersweet, for several reasons. I picked a poor spot

to plant it in last November, too dry due to a nearby maple tree.

That error yielded a series of undersized bulbs in August. And for the first time, I can’t compare

harvests with the man who passed on his love of allium sativa to me.

Dad died last September, weeks after digging up his final haul of large, fragrant bulbs. There

were 500 bulbs, give or take, enough for a small village, more than ample to supply many family,

friends and neighbors plus his daily intake. It was an extravagant supply, in keeping with the massive

harvests of potatoes, carrots and in his final years, kale that he planted in an oversized small town

garden larger than many city lots. Had he been so inclined, Dad could have run a stand at the local

farmer’s market with his surplus produce.

As a gift to people who came to his funeral, my brother Al, sister-in-law Gloria and other members of

their family prepared 300 bulbs, each prettied up with a length of ribbon that had attached a small card

with Dad’s picture and the phrase “a gift from Grandpa Jim’s garden” on one side. Instructions for late

fall planting were written on the other side of the card.

Some people said they would use it for lasagna that night, others said they would follow the

instructions and do their first ever planting late in the fall, thanks to “The Garlic Man.”

Appropriately, the variety Dad favored was an Ontario breed named “Music,” completely suitable for

a man whose other great love was picking and grinning.

Like Dad’s over-sized love for his garden, raising rabbits and making music, Music garlic at its best

is elephantine in scale, with little resemblance to the shriveled foreign garlic that many make do

with from grocery stores for much of the year. When planted around rose bushes, it proves most

effective in keeping bugs away. The taste cannot be equaled either.

Native to Asia and cultivated for over 6,000 years, garlic is commonly eaten around the world. While

there are 70 different strains of garlic in the estimated 2500 acres that commercially planted in Ontario,

Music is said to make up about 90 per cent of the total. But price conscious Canadians import over two

thirds of their garlic from China. Dad had little use for store bought Asian garlic, saying it was of little

value on the rare occasions he was forced to substitute.

Dad made a point of downing at least a large clove a day, often raw, sometimes in his breakfast juice,

first thing in the morning, much to the chagrin of some health care professionals who literally couldn’t

stomach the smell. My guess is that most years he consumed three or four times as much as the

2.3 pounds reportedly eaten annually by the average North American.

Many a full head of garlic made its way into clay bakers at our house, oven roasted and later spread on

fresh-baked bread for a delectable dinner treat thanks to Dad’s never-ending supplies. It is important to

exercise caution when indulging in this treat however. We once had dinner guests who were newcomers

to Canada and unfamiliar with garlic’s charms. The two heads we had baked as a side dish for the meal

sat largely untouched until a family member decided to go for it and consume the lot.

Reminders of that meal oozed through the diner’s pores for several days, an aroma that is not to

everyone’s liking.

Trying to locate Dad near his garden on weekends between mid-April and October was generally a

futile exercise. Most often, he had loaded up his trailer, grabbed his beloved Martin guitar and headed

off across southern Ontario with his girlfriend Joan to a steam show, fiddle competition or some other

rural gathering of the country music and bluegrass “gypsies” that were his tribe. Like him, most were

retired folk who loved nothing better than a weekend camping, playing, singing and telling stories,

some of which were possibly even true. He died on a Friday evening at one of these gatherings,

succumbing to a heart attack shortly after singing a few numbers in a friend’s barn and

wandering off to his trailer with promises to see everyone later.

Fitting then, that acoustic music played a large part in his funeral celebration. A trio of fiddlers,

including a granddaughter, cranked out “Maple Sugar”, “Devil’s Dream” and other jigs and reels while

over three hundred mourners took their seats in the St. Marys United Church for the service.

Five of his grandchildren sang or played during the tribute, and a long-time musical friend from

Hanover played some Hank Williams hurting music as the family followed the casket out of the church

an hour or so later. At the rural cemetery outside the hamlet of Avonbank, where his parents had been

laid to rest over 50 years earlier, the musicians started up again once the pastor had finished the

committal service. Strains of “Til We Meet Again”, then “Heart of Gold” rang through the countryside.

When I returned to Avonbank months later to view the gravestone, someone had left a bulb of Music

garlic beside Dad’s grave.

Maybe I should sing some old country songs while planting this fall’s garlic crop, to get it right.