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From the Garden: Braiding garlic and pulling onions with the kids

This week is all about the alliums and making a spicy tomato salad.

Scallions and other alliums are cropping up this week.
Scallions and other alliums are cropping up this week.
Image: Michael Kelly

IT FELT LIKE allium week here at home this week, with the final harvest finished up on all the onions and garlic.

Looking at the garlic braid now hanging up in the kitchen, it’s insane how much pleasure I get from this simple thing. Garlic began my growing journey 15 years ago, and so I suppose I retain an extra fondness for it.

I lifted the garlic about two weeks ago, and it’s been drying outside on a wire rack since. It has been ideal drying weather lately, with very little rain.

Properly dried out now, the garlic in the braid should last us until well into next year. I also have about 20 other bulbs that weren’t in good enough condition to include in the braid. They will be used up first.

This year, I grew a small quantity of elephant garlic as well. Elephant garlic is closer to a leek than it is to garlic in a horticultural sense, and it has a much wider spacing.

It’s great fun to grow – the act of extracting it from the soil made all the more fun by its sheer size.

However, be careful when easing it out of the soil with a garden fork – the bulbs are so huge, it’s easy to pierce them by accident and then they won’t keep so well.

Elephant garlic can be used in any dish that needs regular garlic – it has a slightly milder, nuttier flavour. Due to its mildness, it’s also very good when roasted and eaten whole.

We also lifted the onions this week – well, the kids did it and it’s a job they enjoy. I get them to use a trowel to harvest them, easing it in underneath the onion while gently pulling the stem.

It’s easy to break the neck of the onion, so it’s a job that needs to be done with care. The onions can be left on the soil to dry out for a few weeks.

This will help to cure the skin and remove some of the moisture from the neck. Again, this helps with storage.

I have a decent crop of onions this year, nothing award-winning, but perfectly adequate all the same. Quite a few of the red onions have gone soft on me, which seems to happen with the spring-sown varieties.

Far better I think if you are trying to grow red onions to sow the previous Autumn (October) – they seem to fare better like this.

Things to do this week – Drying and Storing Onions

The ideal way to dry onions is to leave them out in the sun and wind, but of course the Irish climate’s fondness for precipitation can play havoc on this plan.

If I have to, I resort to laying them out on a wire rack in my potting shed for about two or three weeks before hanging them in a twine braid.

After braided them, I will leave them in the shed for another month or so and then move them in to the kitchen.

Braiding onions is a time-consuming process, but if there’s a more impressive kitchen decoration than a home-grown onion braid, I’ve yet to see it.

Make sure to store your hard-earned onions somewhere very dry – if there is any moisture at all in the air, the onions may rot. I stored them in our porch one year and lost several braids because the air was too damp there. Check the braid frequently and use/remove any onions that are showing any signs of softening.

Recipe of the Week – Spicy Tomato, Cucumber and Pepper Salad

This is a fiery little salad that will clear the head and gladden the heart. Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 cucumber, peeled and cut in half, then cut lengthways in to thin strips
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 green or red bell pepper, seeds removed and finely sliced
  • 10 cherry tomatoes cut in half

 For dressing 

  • 2 tbs sunflower oil
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tbs rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • ½ red chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Directions

Put all the veg ingredients in to a large salad bowl.

For the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk well.

Pour the dressing over the vegetables in the other bowl and mix well.

Leave to sit for about 20 minutes to rest, and then serve. 

Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.

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