Taking It Raw At The Toronto Garlic Festival

A table at the Toronto Garlic Festival was giving out free shots of raw garlic (which will kick the common cold’s ass harder than a spoonful of Buckley’s), and these brave souls volunteered. Click to watch reactions animate!

 

“Garlic chocolate ice cream – SO SORRY SOLD OUT” is a sign I didn’t think I’d ever see.  But at the Toronto Garlic Festival, it was taped onto a table only two hours after the dessert began selling. It was only the first of many garlicky gourmet dishes to be consumed by the apparently insatiable hunger for garlic people have nowadays.

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Instead of the grizzled vegans, food snobs and curious hipsters I had visualized flocking to the Evergreen Brickworks for this fête for the stinking rose, hordes of families and regular Torontonians far outnumbered them, guzzling garlic coffee by the gallon and sharing plates of garlic crepes. And paying for it. These people exchanged currency to eat these culinary frankencreations. While many were aware of health benefits, throughout the festival I overheard passerby asking obvious garlic rookie questions, like what the difference between garlic bulbs and cloves were, or if garlic was just dried up onion.

While I wasn’t that level of new to the bulb, I’ve never been a huge fan of garlic; it’s a hassle to mince and not something I consider a staple in my ramen-ridden/pizza-stuffed pantry.

But there was an undeniable appeal to the reeking vegetable that made line-ups form for garlic macarons or garlic soda, participate in stinky breath contests or watch a garlic documentary (while munching on garlic popcorn, of course),  an appreciation of garlic that extended past gimmicky and into “damn, vampires don’t know what they’re missing” territory.

Vendor Heather MacMillan only grows garlic on her farm and said its unlikely versatility has caused the rising popularity.

“I put it on everything and eat it once or twice a day,” Macmillan said. “Garlic is a very low-maintenance vegetable, you just plant it in the fall and leave it.”

Macmillan had worked with the festival’s founder, Peter McClusky, a man whose fascination was spurred by mass ignorance about Ontario garlic.

“He really wanted to introduce people to more garlic than the no-name they’d find in the supermarket,” MacMillan said.

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Later that day, I heard someone marvel “I’ve got a pack of five different garlic bulbs. That’s four more varieties than I knew existed,” before chugging a shot of raw garlic.

Our food culture revolves around how unaware we are of origin and ethics; a great deal of supermarkets in North America stock garlic from China, where decreased labour and shipping costs mean they can sell a dozen large bulbs for less than five bucks, while just two small bulbs sold by a local farm can be bought with that money.

 

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As the movement to support homegrown garlic grows, with supporters stocking up at farmers markets and events like the Toronto Garlic Festival, so does the interest in eating garlic in as many unconventional ways as possible. Let’s hope this intersectionality of weird recipes and domestic vegetable revolution continues in bringing us delicious albeit pungent ways to stay smelly.