Remembering Garlic Mania

April 19, 2016

IMG_5234When I came upon this book in the Fales Library I was reminded of the garlicmania of the seventies. For most of our history, the United States was a nation that feared garlic.  (Early Gourmet recipes had you suspend a clove of garlic in the salad dressing for a minute, then remove it. And a turn of the century ditty began, “A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat.”) One aspect of the Berkeley food revolution of the seventies was a valiant attempt to restore garlic to its rightful place in the kitchen.

If you’ve seen Les Blank’s 1980 film Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, you know how garlic crazy we all were. (And if you haven’t, you can watch it here for free.) Les traveled Northern California seeking out strange garlic rituals. I was along for much of that ride; we went from the Gilroy Garlic Festival to the Chez Panisse garlic dinner (complete with wild Flamenco).  For one memorable jaunt we took the train to Truckee where a small French restaurant was famous for its sensuous garlic massages. (I just watched.)

When I asked Les for his favorite garlic recipe, he gave me this one. It’s a very good example of the way we were:

Dottie’s Spinach 

2 pounds (3 10 ounce bags) fresh spinach, coarse stems removed
2 onions chopped
1 head garlic, peeled and chopped
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
12 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
salt and pepper

Wash the spinach well and drain it in a colander.  Put half of the spinach, with water clinging to its leaves, in a heavy pot and cook over a moderate heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until slightly wilted, about 1 minute.  Add the remaining spinach and continue to cook over moderate heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until wilted but still bright green, about 1 minute more.  Drain the spinach in a colander.  When the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze it dry in small handfuls and chop finely.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Melt the butter in a large, deep, heavy skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides.  Cook the onion in the butter, with salt and pepper to taste, stirring, until softened, about 8 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cayenne and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Add the cheese and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until the cheese is melted and all the ingredients are combined.  Season the mixture with salt and pepper and spread in a well-buttered shallow baking dish.  Sprinkle the top evenly with bread crumbs and bake in the middle of the oven until golden brown on top and bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes.

Serves 6 as a side dish.


I’ve got lots of garlic memorabilia, like my friend John Harris’s cookbook: The Book of Garlic.  I still use it all the time. But the garlic book above is new to me, and poring through the recipes, I came upon this instantly appealing dish (although that cooking time is insane). IMG_5236


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  • Harry Rissetto says:

    For a cultural history of the era, read “The Garlic Testament.”

  • P says:

    Hi Ruth,

    I loved that film, how cool that you got to be a part of it. My friends and I found it at the library, along with his film Gap-Toothed Women. We got a lot of enjoyment out of them!

    I’ve been on a garlic kick lately- putting whole heads in soups and stir fries. I enjoyed this post.


    Pagan Hill
    Juneau Alaska

  • Regine Ibold says:

    In 1971 I was excited to make Julia Child’s and James Beard’s collaboration recipe “Forty Cloves of Garlic May Not Be Enough” in a roasted chicken. The next morning our youngest son, Hans Peter was born. After delivery the pediatrician came into my hospital room wanting to check on the mother of “the garlic baby.” The entire hospital nursery reeked of garlic, but not me! The garlic baby is now 45 years old and still adores garlic.