Two things immediately signal spring at the Hollywood Farmers Market: Julian Pearce of Soledad Goats begins trotting out the newest — sometimes only days old — baby goats in a blatantly crafty emotional sales tactic (and it works beautifully), and the potent scent of soft and vulnerable green garlic draws us into a stall from yards away.
Allicin is the aromatic culprit — the potent compound that makes the trademark scent of garlic, achievable only when garlic is cut, bumped, bruised or otherwise compromised. Thankfully, this happens often with green garlic (allium haters begone). Tender and immature, the long stems and barely formed bulbs release their fragrance like springtime pollen as they get tossed from truck to table and eventually to your bag. Plastic is your friend here. That or another bag entirely.
Pairing green garlic in your market bag with, say, your highly anticipated Chandler strawberries may mar the moment when you take that first mouthful when you get home. Green garlic is invasive in the nose, but thankfully, even blissfully tame and gentle on the tongue. And not long ago, farmers chucked these coveted beauties unceremoniously in the trash, a byproduct of springtime field thinning to ensure good-sized heads at the end of the season. More, and pictures of baby goats (blatantly crafty but effective, no?) after the jump.
Recommended reading for your garlic education would be anemic if it didn't include a well-loved 1975 hardcover copy of L. John Harris' The Book of Garlic. Its encyclopedic perusal of Allium sativum made garlic an essential ingredient in California kitchens at a time when California cuisine was just emerging from the tuna casserole dish of the '50s and '60s. Harris started walking the food road in Berkeley in his 20s, shortly after his term as an art student at Cal. He helped found the Swallow Cafe at UC Berkeley's Art Museum, was one of the first waiters at Chez Panisse and, following the publication of The Book of Garlic, founded his own publishing company (Aris Books), which printed more than 40 titles, including M.F.K. Fisher's Annotated Edition of Catherine Plagemann's Fine Preserving (another must-have, but not for any mention of garlic).
Following the preserving line, pickling green garlic in a light brine in the fridge isn't a bad way to go. But while the evenings are still a bit chilly, a soup heavy with green garlic and fresh spring peas — also now in season — is actually a light and pleasant dish, the color of new spring leaves and slightly sweet.
Green garlic will be in season through June, but is at its most tender and mild right now. As the season progresses, the bulbs plump from nearly leek-like stalks to gravid proto-bulbs. With the growth also comes stronger flavor, pushing out some of the green sweetness on the younger plants. Choose for unwilted, lush foliage up top and firmly packed, hard bulbs below. Colors depend on the variety — some come streaked with vivid purples, reds and pinks — but have little to no affect on the flavor. At this early stage they're kind of like infants — universally similar and sweet and untainted with the personality that comes with maturity.
But you came here for the goats. They'll be around for a while, but like the garlic, are at their most alluring right now, suckling on proffered fingers and prompting some cute if ridiculous baby talk from grown adults. Don't judge. You'd do the same when confronted with a 5-day-old baby goat cradled in a grown man's arms like a treasured child. You would.
Felicia Friesema is a Master Food Preserver with the UC Cooperative Extension and Co-Leader of Slow Food USA's Los Angeles chapter. You can follow her on Twitter at @FeliciaFriesema.