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Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Confessions of an Onion Addict (page 3 of 4)

by Jack Ruttle

The Leek Family

The Leek Family

Elephant garlic is really a kind of leek (Allium ampeloprasum), Swenson told me, and there are two other kinds grown for food across the Atlantic but virtually unknown here. 'Kurrat' is an Egyptian strain grown strictly for its tender leaves. 'Perlzwiebel', the pearl onion, is a kind of miniature multiplying elephant garlic grown in Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy for pickling. What pass for pearl onions in America are really white onions planted very close to keep the bulbs small.

All plants in the leek family reproduce from bulbs in an interesting way. Elephant garlic is a good case study. Cloves planted in fall produce, bulbs that are typically two inches across with four to six large cloves. The cloves are juicy and taste very much like garlic. Swenson has seen cultivars that attain the size of softballs, up to two pounds apiece with about six giant cloves. At the base of each bulb, the plant also produces a number of hard pea-sized corms. Each will produce a round--a single, spherical bulb that's solid fleshed like a garlic clove rather than layered like an onion. Cloves planted in spring will also often produce rounds instead of bulbs with cloves. Left in the ground or replanted in fall, the rounds produce cloves the following summer.

Leeks usually produce seed in their second summer. But if you cut out the seed stalk, Swenson says, the plant will produce a bulb with two or more cloves and a number of corms. Plant them and you get more leeks. 'Perlzwiebel' is a miniature elephant garlic that multiplies prolifically. Each clump gets to 12 inches across for Swenson. The harvest is a multitude of rounds--perfect spheres of solid flesh with the flavor of garlic. They range from the size of a BB up to a dime. There's no commercial source for them in the U.S., but Swenson plans to make them available to the Seed Savers Exchange.

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