Black Garlic and Independent Ladies

When you’re offered garlic that’s blacker than coal, you eat it. 

Why?  Because if you don't, you’ll never know the sweet balsamic-y glory of black garlic.  At least, Al Pickett’s black garlic on PEI.  

A former beekeeper, Al now operates Eureka Garlic, and plants over 70 varieties of organic garlic on just ¾ of an acre of land in Kensington.  We spoke with him in his workshop, where thousands of bulbs hung in netted bags, and piles of papery garlic skins littered the floor.  

Each of the varieties has its own distinct characteristics, some of which are fermented - an interesting process. 

Al's converted an old fridge into a sort of oven, the temperature of which remains a secret.  He puts the cloves of garlic into plastic containers with lids, and places them in the converted fridge for exactly 22 days.  Magic happens, and they return to the world as sweet, soft, fermented black beauties.  Click here for a slightly more scientific explanation of the process.  

Black garlic is often used in Asian cuisines, particularly in Korea, where the cloves were traditionally fermented in earthenware containers.  Depending on where/how it’s produced, the quality and texture of black garlic can greatly vary.  Apparently some can be quite rubbery, but Al’s were soft and the flavours condensed, as though the cloves had been roasted.  

It’s still a relatively unknown ingredient on the east coast (and across the country, for that matter), but Al said chefs on PEI are starting to utilize it.  Considering its uniqueness and versatility, it would be an easy new ingredient to work with, and we've started noticing it on a few menus since then.

He also sells dozens of varieties of whole garlic, dried garlic, dried and ground garlic scapes, and other products.  It’s a small, impressive, matter-of-fact operation.  

Before we left, we had one more treat: fermented elephant garlic corms, which grow below the garlic head.  They look like little nuts, or even periwinkles, and have two shells that have to be broken through to get to the “tiny black pearl” (as Al described it) inside. 

It’s a little bit of work, but the reward is a candy-like gem.  Absolutely incredible.  

Snacking on these led to my favourite conversation of the whole trip.  I should preface it by saying Dana and I make endless jokes about being independent ladies who listen to independent lady songs.  I don't know why, we just do.  Based on his quick wit, you’d assume Al had been in the car with us the whole time.

(Dana, struggling to get through the second layer of the garlic corm)
Al: You need some help with that?
Dana: No! I’ll get it…
Lindsay (imitating Dana): I’ll do it by myself.
Al: He can do it, I can do it.  Ain’t no man gonna help me.
Lindsay: I’m an independent lady.
Al: Right.
Dana: I listen to songs about it.
Al (laughing): I don’t doubt it in the least.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you wrote them.