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How to braid garlic

Sep 16th, 2010 | Category: Skills

by Margaret McCarthy

The running joke in our family was if Grandma could braid garlic in her hair, she would. My grandmother loved garlic. She tossed it in vegetables, baked it into bread, blended with soups and sauces, and roGarlic braid. Photo by Marnie Jonesasted it with the most delicious oil and cheese. She loved to grow it, and she was a master at braiding it, for long-term use and also as season decoration around the house and farm.
I did not grow up surrounded by this braiding. My mother was a late 1950s mother and as such she had the apron around her waist and cooked us dinners that we then ate in front of that night’s television program. There was no garden, no idea of where our food came from (or how it was grown) and the garlic we had in the house came from the grocery store. But my grandmother, who lived a couple hours away on the family farm she grew up on, grew more garlic than she knew what to do with. It was here that I learned of the love for garlic, and braiding, and it has stayed with me since.
I am now a grandmother myself, and my granddaughter likes to watch me braid garlic. I hope she passes it on her to her granddaughter.
The process of braiding garlic may look complications, but it is rather simple. Once you start braiding, you may find that it’s not going as smoothly as you’d like (or as pretty as you’d like it to look), but I encourage you to continue trying – you will master it in no time.
If you have grown garlic yourself, be sure to use garlic fresh from the garden with the leaves still attached. If you are buying garlic from a grower, let them know what you plan to do with it, and specify that you need uncut garlic. (Note that softneck varieties seem to be easier to braid just because the stems are easier to work with.)
The first thing I do (after rinsing the plants off) is take my garlic to the area I will be braiding, usually my kitchen table. At this point pick the fullest-looking garlic heads. Select three of them and arrange as though you are starting a braid. The bulbs should be down; the leaves up.
Braid the leaves together once or twice so you have garlic bulbs that are two or three to a line (illustration at left). Keep the braids tight, as you want to try and keep the stems as neat as possible within the braid. Continue braiding, but rotate between adding one and two heads of garlic. Continue braiding to your desired length, or you have run out of garlic. You’ll braid the remaining leaves together, and when done, you can tie with twine and trim the edges for a nice finish.
I prefer to create an oval-shaped braid that hangs in my kitchen. Whether you make a line or a circle, be sure to hang to dry when done.
Your first few attempts at garlic braiding will likely leave you wanting to try again. Keep trying, you’ll eventually get the look you’re aiming for. Until then, have fun with it, and know you’re engaging in an activity that humans have been doing for a very long time.
Speaking of a long time, garlic will stay for a very long time, but it will dry out. Use it as needed or leave it as a seasonal decoration in the house. Chances are someone will comment on your rustic decoration and ask you how you did it!

Margaret McCarthy lives in the Northwest. She enjoys gardening, reading, cooking and eating.

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