One of the most popular and appealing products at farmers markets and garlic festivals is the garlic braid. If you have ever tried to braid garlic, you are well aware that successful braids are achieved only by using softneck varieties. Although there is some argument whether Silverskin or Artichoke types are best, Silverskins seem to be the preferential choice. Some of the more common Silverskin cultivars found in braids include Nookta Rose, Rose du Var and Western Rose.
Silverskin garlic straddles the line between hardneck and softneck. As it requires only a short vernalization period, it is one of the few garlics that you can plant in the spring (rather than the usual time in the fall), and still receive good-sized bulbs at harvest. Silverskins can be grown in most climate conditions, however, if grown in southerly climates with mild winters, the cultivars will grow as softnecks. Those strains grown in colder, more northerly regions will often bolt, producing a scape and umbel or several large bulbils within the neck of the plant, just above the bulb. Any scapes produced will droop rather than curl.
The blue-green leaves of Silverskin garlic are narrow, tough and sturdy, hence their appeal for braiding. Those that do end up producing scapes won’t work nearly as well and should be substituted with plants of the Artichoke variety. Silverkskins are late-maturing, which is an added bonus if you are intending to braid, since you can get the rest of the harvest out of the way first!
All cultivars of the Silversking type will produce large, slightly flattened tear-shaped bulbs. Like Artichokes, they have multiple layers of cloves, with each layer segmented by a separate skin. Cloves, on average, number between 10 and 24, but may have more or less depending on the cultivar. The large number of cloves in each bulb subsequently influences the size and shape of the cloves, which will be small and slender in the center of the bulb, and become squatter and rounder as they radiate outwards. The clove skins are pale and range from white to tan, some with a delicate pink blush. The bulbs skins are white, and will sometimes be subtly striped with a warm bronze.
Silverskin cultivars tend to have a better flavor when they are cooked before being eaten. In their raw form they tend to have a very assertive, almost sulfuric taste. Cooking will temper this bitter flavor and the cloves will become more garlicky and nuttier in taste. Heat varies between cultivars, and can range from the mild to the very hot.
Due to the tight wrappers around the multiple layers of cloves, Silverskin garlic usually has an excellent storage life of six months to over a year, meaning you’ll still have plenty of gourmet garlic to enjoy long after your other varieties are gone!