In my family we have a saying: you can never have too much garlic. By that I mean when a recipe says something like “add two cloves of garlic, crushed,” my mother puts in four or five. When she cans pickles, she’ll add six or seven cloves of garlic to the jar along with the brine and cucumbers, and when we were little my parents had to make a rule that all the pickles had to be gone before anyone could eat the garlic at the bottom of the jar. Even friends of our family like garlic, and you can tell who we consider good friends because we always ask how much extra garlic is going into a dish rather than if they actually want any extra garlic. The more garlic they ask for, the better we like them and the more probable it is that we’ve been friends with them for a very long time.
I remember one summer—I think it was between junior and senior year of high school—when we had some friends over that my family has known since before I was born. We refer to them as a unit: The Gerhardts. They include Yvette and her three children Ben, Claire, and Anne. All of them over five foot ten and about as big around as telephone poles. We love them like family, mostly because they like food just as much as we do, they just have never had a lot of money to spend on food, so every so often my mom and dad invite them over and we have large amounts of lovely food together. My mom always makes extra when the Gerhardts come over, because Ben, the oldest, can put away half a chicken all by himself. This particular summer was when they came up to visit after they had moved to North Carolina a couple of years before, so this was the first we had seen them in a very long time. It was late July, maybe August. I was shucking sweet corn on the back deck of my house with Anne, the youngest. The deck faces west and is on the opposite side of the house from our road, but we live on a dirt road and I remember I could smell the dust in the air. The sun was at that golden summer angle that makes the tops of the trees look like they’re on fire.
I don’t remember exactly why we suddenly decided that we needed food; maybe it was Anne saying she was hungry after smelling the chicken that was baking in the oven, I don’t know. But I do remember getting the last of the silk off the last ear of sweet corn and setting it aside in a pile with the others. Ben, Claire, my brother, my sister and I all chorused that we were hungry too. The sound of dishes inside meant my brother and sister were setting the table, but my mom yelled over the sound of the exhaust fan above the stove that dinner was going to be a while, so she’d “come up with something to sooth the savage beasts,” I believe she said. What she came up with was garlic.
Garlic itself is a root vegetable, in the same family as onions, leeks, and chives. Like potatoes, you probably shouldn’t eat it raw, but according to both my mother and Wikipedia, cooked garlic is good for keeping your blood pressure and your cholesterol levels low. Maybe that’s why this memory has so many relaxed, happy feelings attached to it. Anyway, that evening—it must have been a Saturday, because my mom had some extra heads of garlic she had just bought that day at the local farmer’s market downtown—my mom got a rather delicious idea. She washed four very large heads of garlic and put them in her favorite white ceramic baking dish with the little orange flower painted on the side, then stuck them in the oven and let them bake. It didn’t take long for them to get done, maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, but it seemed like longer at the time because we were hungry. It was an especially tough wait because within five minutes the entire kitchen smelled like roasting garlic. In ten, the entire house smelled like garlic.
My mom didn’t want us to dirty the dishes on the table before we ate dinner off them, so instead she herded all of us—including Yvette—out onto the deck, and then we proceeded to eat the roasted garlic. Plain. It was one of the most delicious things I think I’ve ever had. Then someone—possibly Claire, but I don’t remember exactly—decided that they needed some bread to go with this garlic. That was an absolutely decadent idea. Roasted garlic has the same consistency as hummus, so it’s easy to reach inside the skin of the garlic and scoop out the innards with a spoon, plus it’s spreadable. When we put just a tiny dab of butter on top of the bread slathered with a spoonful of roasted garlic, it was like eating summer in food form. My mom had bought a baguette that she had planned to serve with dinner, but, I’m not sorry to say, it never made it to the table. It took us maybe fifteen minutes to finish the baguette and all four heads of garlic, fencing against each other with our spoons in mini-duels if there was a particular clove that two of us wanted. All that was left after that were crumbs, the papery skins of the garlic, and the ceramic dish with its orange flower, still warm from the oven.
Our house smelled like garlic for days after that, much to our amusement. To this day, we eat so much garlic that I think the essence of it has soaked into the ground around my house and into my blood. Sometimes after a particularly garlicky meal, one of my parents will joke that there won’t be any danger from vampires after they're asleep, but I like to think that there has been so much garlic for so long—close to twenty years now—in and around where I live that no vampire would come within a hundred yards of me or my house. Not even Dracula.