Large bulbs with strong taste likely originated in central Europe, expert says
By JOHN SCHMITZ
For the Capital Press
TURNER, Ore. -- A zesty, gargantuan form of garlic discovered near here has attracted the attention of several people, including some Arizona chefs and a world-renowned garlic expert.
Turner farmer Jayne Miller came across the plant while thinning some Himalayan blackberry canes growing near her house. Miller and her husband own Grape Lane Poultry Farm. Not knowing what it was, she contacted Oregon Tilth founder Jim McCormick, who identified it as an unusual form of garlic.
After ignoring the plant for two years, Miller planted her first seed, which in her case was the larger of the cloves from the original plant. At first, she was puzzled. "I didn't even know which end of the clove to plant."
When her first crop was drying in the barn, McCormick showed up at her place and tasted one of the cloves.
"He said, 'This is hot; it's not elephant garlic,'" Miller said.
McCormick also marveled at the size of the bulbs. One weighed in at 3 pounds, much larger than even elephant garlic. Now very much enthused, Miller saved back more of the bulbs and planted again.
After her second little crop came in, she happened to be at Nichols Garden Nursery in Albany -- the nursery believed to be the first to develop and promote elephant garlic -- where she met one of the world's most foremost authorities on garlic, Ake Truedsson, who was visiting from Sweden.
After researching Miller's garlic, Truedsson told her that it was "historically significant," and that it had originated in central Europe before some of it arrived in Oregon, she said. It's now believed that a French Canadian trapper, who once served as a private in the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery and who later settled on the Miller farm, may have planted the garlic in the 1830s.
Miller, whose farm is certified organic by Oregon Tilth, has arranged with a grower in Camp Verde, Ariz., David Stutzman, to grow out some of her garlic, which she named Mary Miller Garlic after her husband Jim's aunt who once lived on the farm.
"(Stutzman) got an incredible crop and cannot get enough of it," Miller said.
"I'm so sold on this stuff that when I harvested it, I had it locked up," Stutzman said. "This is the first year we grew it and it's hands down excellent."
In addition to a longer growing season than elephant garlic, Mary Miller Garlic excels in taste," Stutzman said. "I grew it side-by-side with elephant garlic and it's amazing, the difference in flavor. I took it to a farmers' market -- the scapes (the plant's seed head that taste much like the cloves) -- and that's all people wanted."
Stutsman was met with the same reaction when he introduced Mary Miller bulbs to several chefs in the area.
Miller, who planted 100 pounds of seed cloves in 2010, is applying for protection under the U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act. "I intend on selling the seed all over the world."