Braiding Onions and Garlic

Nothing says old school Italian garden like a strand of braided garlic or onions. They have that wonderfully rustic, yet artistic look. For the Italian gardener, braiding is probably not done for the artistic quality as much as the simple, utilitarian purpose of a space saving, practical way to dry and to prepare garlic or onions for long term storage. But now we see strands of garlic and onions braided for their decorative appeal. I’ve even seen our local supermarket sell them to be given as gifts. But to an Italian gardener, braiding strands is just what you do Garlic_Room_adj_236x300after harvesting, at least with most varieties of onions and soft neck garlic.

There are two kinds of garlic, soft neck and hard neck. Hard neck can be dried and hung as well, but usually in small bundles, with the stiff stems cut off at about 8 inches. This photo shows some hanging in a shed in the Brooklyn garden of Liugi Fuccio.

I ask just about every gardener I visit what they do with their garlic or onions after harvesting. Sometimes they are not sure of the English word for braiding so instead make the hand motions of braiding and say “like hair” and then say the Italian word treccia meaning “a braid”.

I’m thrilled if there happen to be freshly braided strands hanging near the garden to photograph. I’m even happier if I’m lucky enough to be visiting when the onions or garlic have dried in the ground or have dried just enough after harvesting to be ready for braiding and a gardener offers to demonstrate.garlic hands

Giovanni Macchione graciously offered to braid the garlic that was drying near his chicken coop during a July visit for the Smithsonian documentation project.

I hit the jackpot when I was visiting Teresa Tarantino in the Bronx near the end of July and she happened to have dozens of onions in her garden ready to be harvested and at the perfect stage of dryness to be braided.

braiding_236x300She immediately proceeded to pull them from the ground and expertly bundle them. Fortunately we were able to capture all of this in the video below. Notice how skillfully and confidently she handles them. She makes the braiding look so easy. Well, it’s not. It takes lots of practice. She knows exactly when to add more and depending on how long and firm the leaves, how many to add at once. Don’t let those beautifully manicured hands fool you. She is the sole gardener of an immense garden with a grape arbor, fig trees and rows and rows of vegetables.

 

Garlic should be planted in the fall in cooler climates, but you can plant onions now. They are very cold hardy. Tommasina told me she planted hers about two weeks ago (mid-March) and said any time until the middle of April is okay. She planted onion sets, but onions can also be planted from seed or transplants. Onion seeds can also be planted directly in the garden in cooler climates as soon as the soil can be worked, or can be started indoors about three months before the last frost date. They can be grown inside for two months and then transplanted outside about a month before the last frost.

Learn more about our gardeners Giovanni MacchioneTeresa Tarantino and Tommasina Floro by clicking on their names here.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Comments

Frank DiPofi

I have been braiding garlic for about three years now as my Grandparents, Frank and Mary Poff, did many years ago near Midland PA. This video showed that I was making it much harder than I had to. As Tomasina shows, this year I will make sure I add more space as I add each head, and not crowd as I have in the past. I will also continue to remove the dirty outer layer so it may be brought into the house for use. Thank you again for the Italian Garden Project.

Reply
Mary Menniti

Good for you for keeping up the tradition of garlic braiding! I’m so happy that you found the video helpful! Thanks for letting us know.

Reply
Amy Chismar

I usually keep heads of garlic in the freezer for future use. Is it better to dry them out? How long do they keep if dried?
I’m so glad I saw you at Heinz History center & learned of your project. It is so rewarding and enjoyable!

Reply
Mary Menniti

To store garlic, it’s best to keep it somewhere cool and dark with good air circulation. If you buy just a few at a time, a terracotta garlic keeper with holes works well. It can also be kept in a basket or paper bag, but not plastic which can trap moisture and cause it to sprout or get moldy. I have never tried freezing garlic, but some people say it changes the flavor. It doesn’t seem to last as long when it is store bought, but if you grow your own and cure it properly after harvesting, it can keep for up to eight months.

Reply
Suzanne

This was lovely to watch! I just braided my first garlic ever tonight from my first garlic crop.
Now I’m wondering, when I’m ready to use the garlic to cook, which end do you start from? If I start from the bottom, where the inital bulbs were started, will my braid unravel? And, do I simply snip off the bulb I want to use directly above the bulb?
Thank you for this beautiful video!

Reply
Mary Menniti

Congratulations on your garlic braid, Suzanne! You’re keeping up an ancient tradition. You should be able to cut the garlic off just above the head without it unraveling once it has dried thoroughly.

Reply
Frank

After the braid dries you can cut them off wherever you want. My garlic was eaten by voles this spring so no braiding for me this year.

Reply
Herm Donatelli

Mary, thank you for the nice information and great stories on the Italian Garden Project site. My grandparents were from Abruzzo and always had gardens when I was growing up in Pittsburgh. I remember playing in them as a child. I guess its in my blood to garden and I have been growing vegetables for 20 years here in Tucker, Georgia. This was my first year to try to learn the garlic braiding technique. I am hooked on this and will keep up the tradition now. Thanks for the video too !!

Reply
Trish

I’ve just braided my Italian Pink garlic. It’s an early variety well suited to our sub-tropical region of Northern New South Wales. I’ve only ever braided my garlic crop once before. Thanks for your video. I’m a novice! Nice to see how an expert does it.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *