Interview With Robin Cherry, Author of Garlic: An Edible Biography

Written by the enigmatic Robin Cherry, it is the garlic lover's new bedside bible.
12/19/2014 11:14 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Garlic is by and far my favorite food. Not spice. Food. As in I will just eat it because it is the best thing on earth to eat. So how could I possibly resist a book entitled, Garlic: An Edible Biography. Written by the enigmatic Robin Cherry, it is the garlic lover's new bedside bible.

This book is thoroughly researched, approachable and engaging. Covering everything from mythology and monster slaying to its use in medicine and religious rituals, Cherry provides an insightful and unbiased overview of this allium's role in shaping world cultures.

She also provides over 100 recipes for those in love with the stinking rose and practical advice for those wishing to grow their own.

I was lucky enough to chat with Cherry about her love of garlic and the development of her book...

Why garlic and not leeks, bananas, beef or something else?

I love doing research on things that interest me. In fact, my first book was on the history of mail order catalogs.

I found so much about garlic. Garlic was used to discriminate agents Jews, Italians, and Koreans; and it had a lot of tentacles penetrating through history and it was so pervasive. For me, I started learning about this history at a farmers' market where I found a lot of Russian varieties of garlic and they were all so spicy.

These garlics all came to the United States in 1989 after the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The USDA had always wanted to go on collecting missions and discover garlics. However, the former Soviet Union barred them entry as most of the wild garlics grew too close to missile silos. These garlics only made it here once the Cold War was over the the U.S. got permission.

Tell me about your research process for this book?

I think once I discovered all these different garlics it was a lot of going to archives and doing a lot of interviews. Lots of going through technical books about garlic that were written for scientists and trying to distill it all down into something easy I could understand.

As it goes with cookbooks there's almost always a deadline that caused a recipe to get left out or a recipe that just didn't get perfected in time. Was there a recipe you wish had made it into the book?

I never put in a garlic mac and cheese*. I almost opened a cheese shop once and so to not think about cheese is a bit strange for me.

However, I hired a recipe developer and we did a lot of recipes that pulled in from all over the world such as Asia and Europe (garlic isn't used much in Africa, though, so there aren't many African recipes).

What was one of the more interesting facts you learned about garlic in your research?

Garlic can be used for chelation to remove heavy metals, such as mercury, from the blood. (I think chelation is Greek for "to claw"...). In India, someone has used garlic to pull out toxic metals from industrial waste and make it less poisonous to the environment. There's a lot of environmental possibilities that can come from this research.

Do you grow your own garlic?

I do! My first time I planted 180 cloves, but lost my planting map so now I have no idea what varieties they all are. *laughs*

Who is this book for?

A combo of people. It's for culinary history people and for people into weird things. If you like to eat garlic then you'll also love this book. It also covers how to grow garlic, which is very easy and the book goes into.

Do you still smell of garlic?

Sometimes. *laughs* Not that there's anything wrong with that!

Why does garlic work on vampires?

I can tell you why people think it does. Garlic naturally repels mosquitoes so it was an easy association. There was a study in Norway about how garlic can repel vampires, but the scientists couldn't find any vampires in Norway. They did test it out with leeches, but found that the leeches actually preferred garlic-y blood.

You mention garlic as a love charm? I know garlic bread and roasted garlic gets me all excited but is there something more to it?

There is! Garlic has aphrodisiacal properties in that it increases blood flow to the groin. It was also used in early wedding bouquets as it was thought to keep the plague away.

What is your favorite variety of garlic?

I love the spicy varieties from Eastern Europe. Georgian Fire and Georgian Crystal are my favorites.