Article Contributed by Judith Lessler, Durham Farmers’ Market Vendor
Garlic’s current status is summed up by the following quote from The Oxford Companion to Food published by Oxford University Press,
“To say that by the beginning of the 21st century garlic had conquered the world would be something of an exaggeration. … [; however,] it is close to complete penetration of kitchens of the world. If folk-lore is correct, [we] are ever closer to the extinction of the vampire.”
Archeological evidence shows that garlic was a well-regarded food before recorded history. Its importance is also evidenced by multiple mentions in the earliest writings. As well as being a culinary delight through the ages, garlic was prized for its therapeutic and health promotion qualities. In recent centuries, it has been thought to fight evil spirits, thus, the reference to vampires in the above quote. The Egyptians believed garlic promoted strength and endurance. This idea was also espoused by Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Indians (East). A belief that arose independently in so many disparate cultures must have a basis in fact, and I have asked myself, “Is the vigor of garlic-eaters due to a spiritual or physiological quality?”
Given last week’s discussion about garlic “making life worth living,” I come down on the side of garlic evoking an invigorating, sustaining, spiritual reaction. Historical reporting supports this thesis.
First, ancient Egyptian records about building the pyramids indicate that the workers daily rations consisted of beer, flatbreads, and raw garlic and onions. A worker rebellion threatened the completion of the Cheops pyramid, and the Pharaoh was forced to purchase the “equivalent of 2 million dollars’ worth of garlic” to maintain the pace of construction.
Second, stories in the Bible of the exodus of Israelites from Egypt indicate the importance of garlic. The story goes like this: When the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians their population began to increase causing the Pharaoh fear a rebellion by this growing minority. Thus he ordered the murder of a newborn baby boys. Moses’s mother save him by hiding him in reeds growing along a river bed.
Later Moses was adopted by a princess in the Egyptian royal family and worked for them in various administrative capacities. When he was grown, Moses killed an Egyptian overseer who was abusing an Israelite and fled, at which point, he was recruited by God to deliver his people from captivity. Apparently Moses could read and write, and God also conveyed the Torah and other religious laws to him.
To facilitate the release of the Israelites, God caused them to suffer 10 plagues, the last of which was an Avenging Angel who went to each Egyptian household and killed their oldest son. At this point, the Israelites escaped Egypt and, under Moses’s leadership, began a 40 year journey through a wilderness to the Promised Land. There were few resources in the wilderness, so God gave the Israelites manna each day. It fell from the sky.
When growing up and studying this story at Sunday school, I imagined the manna as similar to baked yeasty breads, fluffy biscuits, or buttery Parker-House rolls which my mother often made for Sunday dinner. I assumed there was general rejoicing as it fell from heaven. That, however, was not the case. Whatever fell from heaven was a grain of some sort that had to be ground, boiled, and baked by a fire into a cake which was eaten with water—not much better than barley paste we discussed last week.
People did not want to eat it. Numbers, Chapter 11 describes their discontent:
“We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” New American Standard Bible
This is the same group who built an idol in the shape of a golden calf while Moses was away for 40 days and 40 nights conferring with God about the Ten Commandments. Obviously, lack of garlic caused a deeply felt spiritual unease.
I recommend eating fish with Aioli Sauce, the original iconic garlic sauce from the Mediterranean.