Last week, a rather well-heeled friend with a flair for design passed onto me her pre-loved copies of House and Garden. Looking through the gorgeous glossy pages at French and Italian country houses, I was reminded all over again of why I adore rural Europe and farm house kitchens festooned with fat plaits of garlic, strings of dried chillies, and bunches of golden shallots hanging above the Agar – it's all so deliciously romantic!
Of course, apart from the sheer beauty of an autumn harvest displayed like this, there exists a very real and important reason for bringing your garden indoors at the end of the warmer months. Farmers, whether they're from Provence or Pukekoe, know that stored bulbs survive best in a warm, dry environment where they can be checked on a daily basis for signs of mould, rot, rodent attack, or premature sprouting. And what better place to provide all this than the family kitchen.
That's the reason why, this week, although my little cottage above the sea is hardly an Italian villa overlooking an olive grove, I've been busy towing a tarpaulin, laden with freshly dug garlic's and shallots, from the garage into the sun each day, and why, in a couple of weeks' time, I too will be plaiting and bunching and hanging strings of produce around my kitchen.
If you're a busy person, and who isn't, there may not be time for artistically displaying all of your harvest, but thorough drying is essential. If there's no time for decorative plaiting, select and label your "seed stock" for next season's planting, then source some plastic string onion bags from friends and neighbours who shop at the supermarket. Toss the thoroughly dried harvest into them, remembering to keep the bundle loose so air can circulate. Hang the string bags from the pantry door, the airing rack, or any other place where you can see them on a daily basis. Check the bulbs regularly for signs of deterioration and, above all, help yourself generously to the spoil. It's far better to run out of stock than to be over-thrifty and have your carefully grown vegetables go soft on you at the end of the winter.
And even if you are a busy person, why not make time to plait just a small string of garlic or shallots? Starting from bulb end, with the thoroughly dried tails pointing towards you, begin a three-string plait, adding in more bulbs as you go. If the plait grows too fat, snip off some of the dried stalks that are already well anchored. With the completed plait hanging from a hook on the wall of your kitchen, I guarantee you'll feel as if you've just stepped out of a romantic country villa in Tuscany!