Category: Food science

Terra Fresh: our tomato tests

Terra Fresh: our tomato tests

In the above photo the right hand tomato was from a Terra Fresh treated plant, but it was picked a but later than the redder one on the left.

If you read much online gardening social media, you probably were bombarded with ads for Terra Fresh. This product claims to prevent tomato diseases and increase you yields of tomatoes by as much as a factor of two.

The selling on the website is very aggressive: once you access the site, it makes it hard to leave because of “Wait, don’t go” pop-ups. The first thing they show you is “Lifelong Gardener” Lex Case. He tells you that this is an “All natural blend of plant extracts that wildly increases the microbial population around your plant.” Other places, they refer to these as “phytochemicals,” which also means “plant extracts.“ Whatever you do, don’t click on “CC,” the closed caption options, because it appears to be nonsense from another plane; “…Express love with me in breathe easy social operation…”

Other than that you can’t look anywhere for more information, because terrafreshhome.com has only one main page and no menu. You can, of course order bottles of Terra Fresh, but there is no more information about what the bottles contain.

The ingredients are not “organic,” (which is only a marketing term) but are “all Natural (which doesn’t mean anything either.)

A single 16oz bottle costs $29.95, but there seem to be discounts of 10% you can apply. If you try to order just 1, you’ll get an Email urging you to order at least 3.

We bought just one. You get a 16oz bottle with about 1 oz of brown liquid in it, to which you add 15 oz of “purified water,” whatever that means. Then for each plant, you dissolve ¼ tsp of this solution in 1 pint of water and pour it around the roots.  They suggest every 2-3 weeks: we actually did it more like once a week.

We planted 14 tomato plants in our garden this year, and among them were 3 Amish Paste tomatoes, grafted to stronger stems to make them more disease resistant, and sold by Totally Tomatoes or Vermont Bean Seed (these are the same company). We decided to treat one of the three Amish Paste plants. We also grew 3 large tomato plants of the variety “BW,” produced by Prof Harry Klee’s lab at the University for Florida. His group has developed tomato varieties with excellent flavor, based on extensive consumer panel testing. We also treated one of the BW plants with one pint of the Terra Fresh solution weekly.

Tomato diseases

We followed instructions from several gardening experts, and removed the bottom leaves from each plant, and any that would touch the ground. Since the season was so dry, we saw no evidence of early or late blight on any plants, but of course Septoria Leaf Spot showed up about the time the plants set fruit. Treatment with Daconil helped somewhat, but we mostly just removed each leaf the developed spots as soon as we “spotted” it. The first plant to develop leaf spot was #4, which in fact was one being treated with Terra Fresh.

Harvest

This was a difficult season for gardening in Connecticut because we had a very dry summer, with only about 0.5 inches of rain in August, which slowed down ripening. In addition, even though our garden plot is fortified on all sides, including roof netting, thirsty raccoons began attacking the plants in late August. It is now the last week of September, and while there are still plenty of green tomatoes on most plants, ripening is much slower., as we decided to cut off the experiment in report the results.

Amish Paste

For the Amish Paste tomatoes our 3 plants had the following yields:

  • Amish #2 – 17 tomatoes, 125 oz
  • Amish #4 – 13 tomatoes, 77.5 oz *
  • Amish #6 – 10 tomatoes, 71 oz.

The plant marked with the asterisk(*) was treated with Terra Fresh and was far from the winner.

BW large tomatoes

  • BW #1 – 11 tomatoes, 136 oz
  • BW #13 – 9 tomatoes, 114 oz *
  • BW #12 – 4 tomatoes, 40.6 oz (partial shade)

Again, the Terra Fresh plant(*) was not the winner, but somewhat closer to the winner than the Amish Paste plant was.

So despite Lex Case’s extensive and aggressive advertising, this product doesn’t seem to do much positive. It may actually have retarded the growth a bit.

BW1 – not treated
BW 13 treated with Terra Fresh

And finally, among the paragraphs of nonsense on their sell-page, you will find:

One of our founders lost his son to cancer a few years ago. We are convinced that he got sick to begin with due to the chemicals we are bombarded with every day. We started Terra Fresh to be a part of the solution to that problem.

Terra Fresh

This is an appeal to emotion and gullibility, since he never identifies any actual causality in the unfortunate young man. It is just nonsense, much that we may feel for the unnamed “founder.”

So we still have most of the bottle if someone wants it. We don’t think the experimental results were very positive, though.

Lemon ricotta pancakes compared to Grandma’s

Lemon ricotta pancakes compared to Grandma’s

Several weeks ago, Genevieve Ko published a fascinating recipe for Lemon Ricotta Pancakes in the Sunday New York Times. She used superlatives like “most tender,” “fluffy,” “light” and “comforting,” and we just had to try them.

The pancakes are light because the recipe has 3 eggs, buttermilk, ricotta and only ¾ cup of flour. And the unique part of her version is that the batter also has some grated lemon zest. To counter that, she recommends serving them with a blueberry sauce.  Here is her recipe:

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¾ cup whole milk ricotta
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp melted butter
Lemon zest in sugar
Bubbles forming on lemon pancakes
  1. Heat a griddle to “medium low.” We chose 350˚ F.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
  3. Put the sugar in a large bowl and grate the lemon zest into it, Work in with your fingers.
  4. Mix in the vanilla
  5. Add the eggs and whisk until foamy on top.
  6. Add the flour, ricotta and buttermilk and whisk until uniform.
  7. Butter the griddle generously and drop ¼ cup portions onto it. Cook 2-3 minutes until bubbles begin to from. Turn each pancake gently and cook about 2 more minutes.
  8. Serve with butter and blueberry sauce.

Blueberry sauce

  • ! pint blueberries
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tsp cornstarch

Place all ingredients in a saucepan, mix and heat to a boil. Cook for about 5 minutes, until thickened.

Stack cut open

There is no doubt that these are light, delicious pancakes. Ko says the recipe makes 12-14 pancakes, but since they are so small and not all that filling, this recipe serves just a bit more than two people. We each ate two stacks of 3 pancakes without any trouble. You could have to double it to serve four. And, of course, you could omit the lemon zest if you wanted to serve them with maple syrup.

Grandma’s recipe

This is our old family recipe that was handed down from my mother’s mother, Edna Neely, who probably learned the recipe in the latter part of the 19th century. The copy I got came from her daughter, my aunt Elsie, many years ago. It is a simple recipe that you can remember as 2-2-2-1-1-1/2:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tb sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Buttermilk

Over time, I’ve reduced the baking soda to about ¾ tsp so that the buttermilk flavor comes through more strongly.

  1. Mix the dry ingredients together.
  2. Break the eggs into the mixture and add buttermilk to make a “thickish batter.”
  3. Cook on a griddle at 375˚ F until bubble form and then turn them and cook another two minutes.
Buttermilk pancakes rising
Stack of buttermilk pancakes

How they differ

We usually make bigger pancakes, using maybe 1/3 of a cup of batter each, but you certainly can make them smaller like the ones in Ko’s recipe. They are nearly as light as Ko’s and much less work. It is also easy to make, say a 1-1/2 recipe to serve more people, but the basic recipe will serve 3-4.

I’ll probably make Ko’s recipe from time to time because they are really good with blueberry sauce, but it is so much more work than Grandma’s recipe and if you put a stack of 3 ¼-cup sized pancakes from each recipe side by side, the difference is relatively small.

We tried cooking this recipe at the lower temperature as Ko recommends, and this works fine too. They just take slightly longer to cook. However, we did find that the lower temperature cooked those frozen sausage patties more uniformly without burning them.

Why were my scones so flat?

Why were my scones so flat?

We make scones for breakfast fairly often, because as we showed earlier, you can make them quickly and they are quite delicious.

But, a couple of days ago, we made some of the worst scones we’d ever made.

As you can see, the recent scones were a flat-out disaster. We had used new baking powder and everything, but they were a flop.  What had gone wrong?

Well, the immediate suspect was the baking powder. Baking powders sometimes fails because it was stored improperly: in a hot warehouse or truck, for example. Let’s explain how this works here.

Baking soda is just sodium bicarbonate, NaHCo3. You use it when acidic ingredients such as buttermilk, sourdough or yoghurt are included in the batter. The baking soda will react with any of those acids to release carbon dioxide, CO2, which causes bubbles that make the dough rise.

Baking powder is sodium bicarbonate mixed with one or more acids in dry crystalline form, such cream of tartar  (tartaric acid), monocalcium phosphate, sodium aluminum pyrophosphate, or a couple of others.  Double acting baking powders (and most of them now are) contain two acids, one that reacts immediately when liquid is added and one that reacts only when heat is also applies. In all cases, the baking powder also contains cornstarch, to help keep the mixture dry and add bulk to make it easier to measure.

But you can easily test baking powder by putting a couple of teaspoons in  a bowl, and adding boiling water. Just microwave a cup of water in a pitcher for a minute or so until it bubbles a bit, and pour it over the baking powder. It should foam up right away as you see below.

New baking powder foams up in hot water

But let’s look at that suspect baking powder: no foam at all, it scarcely breathes a word!

Suspect baking powder

In fact, it doesn’t really look at all like the other sample. In fact let’s look at the package:

Oh!

Why does my diet soda taste ‘off’?

Why does my diet soda taste ‘off’?

If you’ve ever been given a can of Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi and it tastes a little off, or way off, you probably just toss it out. Why does this happen and what can you do about it?

Many diet soft drinks are sweetened with aspartame a leading non-nutritive sweetener that works very well in cold or room temperature foods. Aspartame is little more than 2 amino acids (aspartic acid and phenyl alanine) stuck together in a peptide linkage with one extra methyl group.  This useful colored diagram came from the paper by Prodolliet, et. al. [1].

Aspartame, showing aspartic acid(red), phenyl alanine (blue) and the methyl ester (magenta)

Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by James M Schlatter, while working at G.D. Searle. He said that he had made the aspartame (methyl ester) and was trying to recrystallize it to purify it, when some of the mixture bumped outside the flask. Later, when he licked his fingers to turn a page, he discovered a very sweet taste. Since he realized that the compound he made was unlikely to be toxic, he tasted it and found it extremely sweet indeed. In fact, aspartame is about 200 times as sweet by weight as sugar.

Searle patented this product, naming it Nutrisweet and Equal. Officially, aspartame has a half-life of about 300 days in solution at about pH 4, about the pH of soft drinks, but half life means that half if it as gone by that time. And if the cans are exposed to a hot storeroom or stored in a warm summer garage, they may deteriorate faster.

Why does it start to taste awful?

Diet sodas have a date on the package: it’s not the “sell-by” date, it’s the “use-by” date. Depending on you grocer, this may be 2 to 2-1/2 months from the date you bought it. Grocers are not too good at stock rotation of diet sodas, so it is up to you to make sure you don’t get an early one. Nearing the end of January, we have picked up cartons dates from Mar 21 to April 11 in the same stack! Unless you only buy one or two at a times, this won’t matter, but if you buy several on sale (and they all do this) you need to be watchful.

Carton date
Can date

So what happens? Well, the simplest thing that happens is that the two amino acids come upzipped: this is called hydrolysis,  since it always amounts to adding a water molecule at a carbon-oxygen bond. If you unzip aspartame into the two amino acids and remove that methyl to become methanol, you have a tasteless mixture of pretty harmless compounds. Your body easily metabolizes that bit of methyl alcohol and you are none the worse for it. This is described in the Prodolliet paper [1] and in the one by van Vliet [2].

Aspartic acid
Phenyl alanine
Methanol

What tastes so awful?

It is easy to understand that a solution of those two amino acids might well be tasteless, which is one of the outcomes when diet sodas age. But what about that really vile taste you sometimes encounter in old diet sodas?

I think there are two possibilities. If you look at the various steps aspartame undergoes as it unzips [1], you discover that one of the intermediate products is a form of diketopiperazine.  The basic compound is shown below along with the derivative, sometimes also referred to as DKP that is actually produced:

Basic diketopiperazone
DKP found in aspartame decomposition

Bothwick [4] has described the taste of DKPs as “bitter, astringent, metallic, and umami.” This is not surprising, since ring compounds with one or more nitrogen usually are pretty smelly. And a table of the concentrations of intermediates in van Vliet[2] shows that DKP occurs in significant amounts. But, in case you are concerned about their toxicity, Ishii et. al [3] studied aspartame and DKP for 104 weeks in Wistar rats and found no toxic effects at all.

The other possibility, albeit less likely, is another form of the sweetener called β-aspartame, which differs only in the position of that NH2 group: it is moved one carbon to the left. This isomer has a pronounced bitter taste, and does occur during aspartame decomposition, but in much lower  concentration. But again, it is harmless.

beta-aspartame

Diet Coke mythology

You can’t discuss diet sodas for very long before someone brings up the old saw the diet sodas cause weight gain. The theory was that the sweetness induces hunger and you eat more actual food to satisfy it.

In 2008 Fowler and Williams[5] published a paper noting a correlation between obesity and diet soda consumption. A correlation, not causation. But in 2009, Chen and Appel [6] monitored 810 adults for 18 months, recording their beverage intake. They found weight gain from sugar sweetened beverages and but no weight gain from artificially sweetened beverages.

Finally, in 2012, Maersk and Belza [7] compared satiety scores for milk, sugar sweetened beverages and artificially sweetened beverages, and found no evidence that artificially sweetened beverages increased appetite or energy intake, concluding that “diet colas had effects similar to water.”

Regarding unfounded rumors that artificially sweetened beverages had some neurological effect, a panel of 10 experts examined all the current literature [8] and concluded:

The data from the extensive investigations into the possibility of neurotoxic effects of aspartame, in general, do not support the hypothesis that aspartame in the human diet will affect nervous system function, learning or behavior. Epidemiological studies on aspartame include several case-control studies and one well-conducted prospective epidemiological study with a large cohort, in which the consumption of aspartame was measured. The studies provide no evidence to support an association between aspartame and cancer in any tissue. The weight of existing evidence is that aspartame is safe at current levels of consumption as a nonnutritive sweetener.

So aspartame is safe before and after it degrades into the component amino acids, but for the best taste, you should check each package’s expiration date.

References

  1. Prodolliet, Jacques; Bruelhart, Milene (1993). Determination of Aspartame and Its Major Decomposition Products in Foods. Journal of AOAC INTERNATIONAL, 76(2), 275–282. doi:10.1093/jaoac/76.2.275 
  2. Aspartame and Phe-Containing Degradation Products in Soft Drinks across Europe Kimber van Vliet,1 Elise S. Melis,2 Pim de Blaauw,2 Esther van Dam,1 Ronald G. H. J. Maatman,2 David Abeln,3 Francjan J. van Spronsen,1 and M. Rebecca Heiner-Fokkema2,*  Nutrients. 2020 Jun; 12(6): 1887. Published online 2020 Jun 24. doi: 10.3390/nu12061887
  3. Toxicity of aspartame and its diketopiperazine for Wistar rats by dietary administration for 104 weeks H IshiiT KoshimizuS UsamiT Fujimoto DOI: 10.1016/0300-483x(81)90119-0
  4. 2,5-diketopiperazines in food and beverages: Taste and bioactivity, A Bothwick and NeilC DaCosta, Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Mar 4;57(4):718-742 doi:10.1093/jaoac/76.2.275 
  5. Fueling the obesity epidemic? Artificially sweetened beverage use and long-term weight gain. SP Fowler, K Williams, et. al., Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008 Aug;16(8):1894-900. doi: 10.1038/oby.2008.284. Epub 2008 Jun 5.
  6. L Chen and L J Appel, et. al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;89(5):1299-306. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.27240. Epub 2009 Apr 1.
  7. M Maersk, A Belza et. al., Eur J Clin Nutr . 2012 Apr;66(4):523-9. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2011.223.
  8. B.A. Magnuson et al.  Crit Rev Toxicol. 2007;37(8):629-727. doi: 10.1080/10408440701516184.

 

Newman’s Own Pizzas

Newman’s Own Pizzas

We thought that the Newman’s Own pizzas we say in the grocer’s freezer would be a nice change from our making our own. The pictures, at least, looked enticing. So we picked up a couple of them: Supreme and Harvest Vegetable.

Boxed pizzas

The pizzas come in a box and sealed in plastic as well, on a cardboard disk about 10 ¾   inches. So, the pizzas are about 10 ½ inches each.

Pizzas before baking

You cook them in a 425˚ F oven for 10-12 or 11-13 minutes: the veggie one takes the slightly longer time. You are supposed to remove them from the cardboard disk, but the picture didn’t make that clear, and after we put them in the oven, we discovered that fact in the text, and used our pizza peel to lift them off the cardboard to continue cooking. You are supposed to cook them until the cheese melts and the crust browns a bit. Because of our snafu, this took a bit longer then 12 minutes, but they came out looking pretty nice.

Pizzas just out of the oven

We cut them into 6 pieces each.

While we thought the flavors of both pizzas were quite good, they really were diminutive. The thickness was less than 1/8 inch, except for the occasional pepper or sausage lump. The pepperoni was sliced so thin it only had one side. Surprisingly, the ingredients suggested that this was a yeast dough. It certainly didn’t rise much.

Edge view of Supreme pizza

The package said that a serving was 1/3 of a pizza, or two of the six slices implied in the package picture. That was about 250 calories, which is not going to fill you up very much. Each of the 6 slices weighed about 1.8 oz, meaning that the whole baked pizza weighed about 10 oz. Initially the pizzas we 15.7 or 17 oz meaning that there was at least a 5 oz water loss in baking.  By contrast, the pizza we usually make produces slices of about the same dimensions that weigh about 5 oz each.

Essentially, this was a tasty 2-dimensional pizza, that left us kind of hungry. I guess if we had looked at the grocery receipt and found they were only about $7.50 each, we shouldn’t have been surprised. We did go away hungry, though.

How to save tomato seeds

How to save tomato seeds

At about this time of year (or sooner) you may be thinking about what you’ll be growing next year, especially if one or more varieties of tomatoes were particularly successful. You can, of course, just buy new seeds every year, but if you are growing an unusual variety, you may want to consider saving seeds from the most vigorous plants. In our case, we grew some really successful varieties bred at the University of Florida, and they specifically suggested that we save their seeds, since they’d rather not be in the commercial seed business.

You can save seeds from any variety, but you will have the best results from ones that are open pollinated, meaning that the seeds will produce the same variety of plant as the parent. This may not be true of hybrid varieties and saving them is a bit riskier: you can’t be sure their progeny will be the same as the parent plant.

Some writers suggest only saving “heirloom” seeds, but this is probably a bit extreme. Heirloom really means that most growers have gone on to something better than that variety. Heirlooms may have lower yields and be less disease resistant. There are still plenty of great tomatoes you can save seeds from, such as Better Boy, for example.

You want to pick a good example of the fruit to take seeds from, but it needn’t be perfect. The tomato could be cracked or have a recent slug or fruit borer hole, as long as it hasn’t rotted.

The difficulty in saving tomato seeds is that they are enclosed in slippery little gelatinous sacs, that are hard to work with.  And that gel sac also includes a growth inhibitor, so the seeds won’t sprout within the plant. You need to remove that as well. We’ll show here how to overcome that problem below.

(Seeds do sometimes sprout inside a tomato, which is a kind of a surprise, but is usually harmless. It’s called ovipary.)

Saving the seeds

Cut the tomato in half and scoop out some seeds and the accompanying sacs. We used a melon baller, but a spoon would also work. Put the seeds in a fine strainer and rinse them with running water. We used the sprayer setting on our kitchen faucet to try to blast open the little sacs. This works to some extent, but we found that alone this wasn’t  enough. Those seeds neve germinated.

The next step, recommended by a number of writers is to use Oxyclean stain remover. Put some tap water into a glass or pitcher and add a tablespoon of Oxyclean powder. Stir it in, and then add the seeds, including the gel and any bits of tomato that have seeds attached.

Let them soak in the mixture of half an hour. During this time, the seeds will probably float to the surface.  Then pour the seeds and some of the solution through the strainer again and rinse the seeds using running water. Pick out any bits of tomato that end up in the strainer.

Finally, prepare a paper plate with a napkin or coffee filter on it to catch the seeds, and dump the seeds onto that tissue. Incidentally, seeds may stick to a napkin, and parchment paper is better, but of course, it doesn’t absorb much water. Label the plate with the tomato variety and let the seeds dry on the plate for 1-2 weeks.

After that, put the seeds in envelopes and label the envelopes. Put the seeds in a zip lock bag and keep them in a cool, dry place. You can even store them in the refrigerator or freezer according to the Florida research group.

Testing the seeds

You might want to test the seeds to make sure they will germinate. To do this, put two or three seeds in a damp paper towel, and enclose it in a zip lock bag. The seeds will sprout in around 10 days.

Seeds sprouting

Then you know you are ready for the next season!

Easy gazpacho, two ways

Easy gazpacho, two ways

There isn’t much to making gazpacho: it’s a cold soup made from tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and anything else in your garden you might want to try.  Now that there are really flavorful tomatoes at peak ripeness, you can chop up some gazpacho in your blender just a few minutes. If you don’t have a garden bursting with tomatoes, try getting some from a farm stand or farmer’s market to get the best flavor. Supermarket tomatoes are bred for traveling ability, not flavor, so you probably want to avoid those.

The first tomatoes that come in most gardens are the cherry-sized ones, and those are usually the sweetest as well. Use those along with a few bigger tomatoes for the best result.

We call for about 2 lb of tomatoes, but depending on the number of guests, you can increase or decrease this. Just make sure you fill your blender with all the veggies. You can always make more, and combine them in a bowl to make sure the flavors are uniform.

Cherry tomatoes on the vine

  • 2 lb tomatoes, quartered. (Leave the cherry-sized whole)
  • 1-2 cucumbers, depending on size, peeled
  • ½ bell pepper (red, orange or green) cut up
  • 1 clove garlic, smushed to remove the skin
  • 2 Tb red wine vinegar or sherry wine vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, extra for garnish
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  1. Put all the above ingredients into a blender and blitz until uniform. This should give you a nice, chunky soup, which will still have bits of peel and seeds among the chunks.
  2. To make a smoother gazpacho, run the soup through a food mill to filter out the seeds and skins. The flavor will be the same, but the mouth feel will be less chunky.
Food mill

Chunky or smooth

Serving

Browning croutons

Chill the soup for an hour or so in the blender or in a couple of quart mason jars.

  • ½ loaf French or other country bread, cut into croutons
  • Basil, cut into strips (uses scissors or a knife)
  • More extra virgin olive oil
  1. Put a little regular olive oil into a cast iron pan and brown the croutons briefly.
  2. Pour the soup into serving bowls, and add a few toasted croutons to each bowl, and garnish with a few strips of basil and a splash of extra-virgin olive oil.

Serve at once.

Chicken with forty cloves of garlic

Chicken with forty cloves of garlic

Richard Olney was an American Painter who moved to France in 1951, and became enamored of French food while in Paris. He moved to a farmhouse in Provence, which he essential built and rebuilt by hand and wrote some of the seminal cookbooks on French country cooking. His French Menu Cookbook was his first big success, and he bought an expensive French stove with some of the proceeds.  His books stress using local ingredients and discuss pairing each recipe with wines.

In one of the most fascinating intersection of chefs as cookbook authors, Luke Barr’s book Provence, 1970 describes a year when Julia Child, Simone (Simca) Beck, MFK Fisher, James Beard, cookbook editor Judith Jones and Richard Olney all visited together in Provence, cooking, sharing ideas and changing the course of food in America.

This recipe for Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic is Olney’s and is a jumping off place for all sorts of variations. Writing in the New York Times, Dorie Greenspan describes this dish as a “no-matter-what recipe” that young cooks can count on to always work. She also proposes some interesting variations, noting that you can add wine, more kinds of vegetables among other things.

The essence of Olney’s recipe is chicken, herbs, and four heads of garlic cloves, all cooked together in a casserole until only a gentle hint of garlic flavor remains. We have described the details of how garlic flavor develops and noted that you get very little of that flavor if you don’t cut into each clove. While Olney and other chefs may not have known the botany of garlic, chefs in general knew the properties of garlic and how to obtain them, by mincing the clove or, as this recipe does, simply using them cloves whole.

The recipe calls for a whole chicken or four drumsticks and thighs. Comments on Greenspan’s article suggest you remove the chicken skin, since it doesn’t become crisp in this recipe and would just hang around looking floppy.

In the accompanying photos, we made only half a recipe, with two chicken legs and used only 2 heads of garlic.

  • 1 whole chicken, cut up, or 4 chicken legs cut into thighs and drumsticks, skin removed.
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 heads of garlic, cloves separated but unpeeled. Discard any loose hulls.
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1 tsp mixed dry herbs (thyme, oregano, savory)
  • 1 large bouquet garni, large branch celery, parsley, bay leaf, leek grrens and lovage if available, tied with string.
  • Flour and water for dough
  1. Cut up the chicken, remove the skin and place the pieces in a casserole.
  2. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper, and the herbs, chopped if fresh, and mix it all together with your hands.
  3. Place the bouquet garni in the center of the chicken pieces, and push the garlic cloves all around between the chicken pieces.
  4. Put about 2-3 cups of flour in a bowl and add water and a few drops of olive oil to make a dough.
  5. Roll out the dough large enough to cover and seal the casserole.
  1. Moisten the rim of the casserole and press the dough all around the rim.
  2. Cover the casserole and bake it at 350˚ F for 1-3/4 hours.
  3. Remove the lid.
  4. Some suggest serving the sealed casserole and breaking through the dough seal at the table. Actually, you almost lift it off whole. It isn’t really to be eaten.
Finished dish with dough seal removed

Serve with crusty French bread, grilled or toasted if you prefer. Take a couple of garlic cloves with each serving and squeeze them with a fork to get the soft, cooked garlic out to spread on the bread. You will find it delicious, slightly sweet and not garlicky at all!

Garlic Fries: great even outside the ballpark

Garlic Fries: great even outside the ballpark

We haven’t made garlic fries in some years, so we looked at published recipes to see what people are doing. As far as we could tell, they all got it wrong!  All the recipes we found suggested mincing the garlic and the sauteing it to “reduce the garlic flavor.” Duh! Why no just use less garlic? Those recipes also suggest pouring the cooking oil over the fries along with the dis-flavored garlic, making a greasy mess.

The problem is that cooking the garlic can easily make it nearly tasteless. You could throw on some rice instead!  And further, since garlic has a lot of sugar in it, it is very easy to burn it!

As we noted in our previous article, garlic develops its flavor when you cut it up, and loses its flavor when heated.

So, we went back to our own recipe from years ago:

  • 5-6 cloves of garlic
  • 4-6 sprigs of Italian parsley
  • 2-3 Tb Diamond Kosher salt
  • French fries (frozen ones are OK)
  1. Mince the garlic to small pieces and then chop it with the parsley.
  2. Chop both into the pile of salt until well mixed.
  3. Toss over freshly made French fries and mix well. Let any excess fall off when you move them to a serving dish.

Serve at once.

Not much trouble here, and they go as well with hamburgers as they do with baseball. Note that we chose Diamond Kosher salt of Morton’s, because the salt crystals are smaller. And while we have a wooden counter top, we chose to chop this up on a cutting board, making cleanup easier.

To get the garlic smell off your hands, rub them with salt before washing them.

All about garlic

All about garlic

The garlic bulb is a really unusual plant. Each clove in the garlic head is actually a single swollen leaf, according to Harold McGee. Garlic’s strong taste and smell is actually a protection the plant evolved: when an animal bites into it, the strong taste is released, repelling the animal.

A whole garlic clove has only a mild taste and aroma, but when you cut into it, the enzyme alliinase is released from one part of the bulb and reacts with the compound alliin (a derivative a the amino acid cysteine) in another part of the bulb to form allicin, which has the characteristic garlic aroma and taste. Note that the plant evolved this defense to keep away animals, and garlic is actually quite toxic to dogs and cats: you should avoid letting any get into their food.

The alliinase enzyme is quite sensitive to temperature. Students of Professor John Milner at Penn State carried out a simple experiment where they placed garlic cloves in a microwave oven for one minute. While the garlic cloves appeared unchanged, analysis showed that the enzyme had completely disappeared after heating. They noted that other types of heating are sure to give the same results.

So this means that you need to chop the garlic before heating or cooking it, and that you should let the chopped garlic stand for a few minutes before adding it to the food you are preparing, to allow time for the enzyme to work to develop the flavor.

Garlic has much more sugar in it (fructose) than onions do, and is thus more prone to burning. Cook it at low temperatures when sautéing it, or add it directly to a liquid.

These two facts explain why dishes like Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic are so mild. The garlic cloves are never cut up: and the alliinase is destroyed by heating soon after the cloves are added to the pot.

Always buy fresh heads of garlic. Avoid the ones in little boxes, as they may be very old. You should also avoid bottled peeled garlic cloves in oil, as they are prone to develop botulism, according to McGee. And do not refrigerate garlic, which also will reduce the flavor.

Garlic peeler

When peeling garlic, you can use the simple rubber garlic peeler tube shown above, or you can use Jacques Pepin’s technique, and just cut a small slice from the root end of the clove. This will free the skin and it will just about come apart in your hand.  You can also just crush the garlic and pick out the peel from the rubble.

And how do you get that garlicky smell off your hands? Rub them with salt and then wash as usual.

See also

  1. The chemical weapons of onion and garlic
  2. Is garlic toxic to pets?
  3. Science News: Garlic benefits- it’s all in the preparation
  4. Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
  5. Harold McGee: On Food and Cooking
  6. Jacques Pepin: Essential Pepin