Garlic? Yes, and yes

The question of garlic in cooking is, today, almost a dead letter. That is, its use in countless cuisines is unquestioned, and generally valued.

The influence of world cuisines has partly worked this change, but it started earlier with the vogue for French (classic, later regional), and southern European cooking. British, North American, Australian, etc. foodways underwent a permanent change.

American regional cuisines contributed too, particularly from the South and Southwest.

Pauline Adema in her The Garlic Capital of the World (2009) summarized well the American evolution, but claimed a lingering prejudice still exists against the bulb. Today, 11 years later, that may no longer be true but it’s an interesting question.

In Britain, postwar writers such as Jane Grigson often patiently explained why they made no apology for garlic. Grigson also showed, with typical scholarly elan, that garlic was historically a favourite in a region or two of Britain for its “haut gout”. Cornwall, for example.

In the 1930s X. Marcel Boulestin, French-born but working in London, wrote a mini-disquisition on garlic still apt today, in The Finer Cooking: Dishes for Parties. He stated whether one likes garlic or not “everyone eats it”, meaning it was pervasive in restaurant cooking even then. See pp. 51 et seq.



As restaurant chefs were often drawn from Continental ranks, this makes perfect sense. In home cooking, or school and institutional catering, the shift took longer to achieve, but today garlic in U.K. kitchens raises no frisson, or at least, nothing comparable to before the 1970s.

Setting aside the cultural and social historical aspects, interesting as they are, I come back to the main thing (for me), which Boulestin so artfully addressed. What is the effect of garlic in food, and how best to achieve it?

It’s a complicated question with an endless series of solutions, few clear-cut.

For a vue d’ensemble though, a remark made back in 1950 is striking in its simplicity and soundness. A Spanish diplomat was promoting agricultural exports before a group of Irish epicureans. He stated as reported in the Cortland Standard, New York:*


… the advantage of garlic is not that it makes for good cooking, but that its presence makes good cooking unnecessary.

Brilliant! A mini-code for garlic in cookery. Sometimes an essential truth remains hidden until someone expresses it so simply and accurately.

I might not make the best hamburgers, or spaghetti sauce, but if I add a bit of garlic, it will turn out fine.


Note re image: the image above was sourced from the Wikipedia entry on the Gilroy Garlic Festival, and is noted as public domain. Any rights therein belong solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Via the historical newspaper archive of Fulton History, as linked in the text.



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