It's hardly as appealing as ice cream, as addictive as chocolate, or as adaptable as seafood. So what were organizers of this weekend's Second Annual Delray Beach Garlic Festthinking when they chose a pungent collection of cloves as the theme for a food bash?
Perhaps they were looking for a little controversy. Garlic, which originated centuries ago in central Asia, has more neatly divided the world into disciples and detractors than almost any other edible. The odoriferous bulbs have been called both "the diet of ditch diggers" (by the 19th-century upper crust) and "a little bit of nirvana" (by New York Magazinefood critic Gael Greene). Egyptians and Greeks have gobbled garlic since Plato wore short pants, while Shakespeare frequently trumpeted his distaste for it. Eleanor Roosevelt practically bathed in it, but French king Louis XV thought it was "better adapted to medicine than cookery."
Apparently this love-hate dichotomy is part of the appeal. Garlic Fest executive director Nancy Stewart says her inspiration was the 20-year-old Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, which attracts thousands of people to the little Bay Area town annually.
The Delray fest already has its adherents, among them a group of Canadian farmers traveling 1800 miles to display their hybrid, six-clove heads of elephant garlic. "Usually there are five cloves on a head," Stewart explains. "And, yes, the men are driving here. That's the kind of passion garlic provokes."
A nonprofit fundraiser, the event includes recipe contests (judged by the Food Channel's "Mr. Food"), musical performances, and Gourmet Alley, where visitors can taste original garlic dishes. Stewart, of course, will be right in the thick of things, chowing down.
"I'm absolutely a garlic head," she affirms. "I eat a head a week -- roast it and spread it on my bread instead of butter. It's no wonder I'm known as "the Garlic Queen' at town meetings."