A Clove Encounter of the Malodorous Kind

Times Staff Writer

Now for a clove-up look at one of the world's great fan clubs.

During this the week of the reek--more specifically the third annual Los Angeles Garlic Week--it is time to turn attention to an association whose members feel there is more to garlic than meets the nose.

Lovers of the Stinking Rose, they call themselves, and at last count there were an estimated 5,000 of them around the world--perhaps 500 or so here in Southern California.

"We are a casual organization," Lloyd John Harris, the founder, conceded while here for the week's observances. "We only have festivals, no formal meetings."

In other words, no need for Robert's Rules of Odor.

All that is needed to belong to this select group is a passion for garlic, plus payment of one-time membership dues of $18, which entitles a person to a copy of Harris' work, "The Book of Garlic," a peeping tome into the wonderful world of that plant.

Furthermore, the member gets a bumper sticker ("Fight Mouthwash, Eat Garlic") and a lifetime subscription to Garlic Times, a newsletter issued two or three times a year by Aris Books in Berkeley. Read it and reek.

As head of that cookbook publishing company, Harris is a man for all seasons, but he reserves a special fondness for garlic. Indeed, the newsletter has crusaded for it on more than one front.

To be sure, the battle isn't always won. When a Miami firm--Smell It Like It Is Inc.--began manufacturing T-shirts with fragrances such as bananas, oranges, root beer--Lovers of the Stinking Rose asked for the production of garlic-scented shirts.

No luck. When it came to mighty Lever Brothers Co. and Signal Mouthwash, however, there was a victory of sorts. If you can label a televised debate as such.

Maybe it wasn't Lincoln-Douglas, or even Coke-Pepsi, but viewers of a television station in New York City did get to watch a Lever research chemist and Harris argue garlic breath and mouthwash. As in all such debates, each side claimed victory.

What brought it all about was a reaction by the garlic association to what it calls "the mouthwash conspiracy." In particular, the advertising for Signal Mouthwash claimed that it halted bad breath caused by the "strongest of all" mouth odors--garlic and onions.

"I wrote their people and pointed out that the odor of garlic is exuded in the normal process of perspiration. Mouthwash only masks it," Harris recalled. "You would have to take a mouthwash bath. I almost did that as a stunt."

Garlic breath is good breath, he continued. "The ruin of any outstanding French, Chinese or Italian meal would be to kill the fragrant after-taste with a commercial mouthwash," he wrote his members in his newsletter.

Cease and Desist

Then there was the sparring with American Express Co.

Ever since garlic lovers banded together 11 years ago, they have wanted identification. Three years ago, Harris came out with "Garlic Express," looking like a credit card and bearing the slogan: "Don't Eat Out Without It."

"The idea was that when a member displayed one in a restaurant, he or she would be entitled to extra garlic at no additional cost," the founder said. "We got a letter from the American Express lawyers, telling us to desist because we were violating a trademark and trying to compete."

Harris said he has backed off on distributing them, and is in the process of getting permission from another credit card firm for a different facsimile.

This evangelist of the clove also finds his time occupied with such matters as participating in the week's observance here, sponsored by his group and the Nucleus Nuance Restaurant. More than 20 eateries are offering such dishes as garlic ice cream, candied garlic apples, and garlic mousse.

A Garlic Proponent

Don't laugh. Eleanor Roosevelt lived to be 78, and was a proponent of garlic. "She used to tout chocolate-covered garlic," Harris said, "although I consider that gilding the garlic."

Another advocate was author Henry Miller, who lived to be 88. He once wrote in a letter to Harris: "I have always considered garlic one of the four cornerstones of good health; the other three being honey, olive oil and yogurt."

The 38-year-old association founder himself always looks forward to his traditional Sunday breakfast of garlic poached eggs:

"I first put whole cloves into boiling water. When I remove them, I poach the eggs in the same water. I spread the softened cloves onto toast and put the eggs on top."

There are cocktail lounges, he went on, that serve a gartini--using a pickled garlic glove instead of an olive. Also available is garlic wine, produced by a winery in Gilroy.

Making a Comeback

Harris and his disciples feel that garlic is making a comeback. "It is the immigrant influence," he explained. "In former times the Europeans, in order to assimilate into our society, gave up garlic. The Asians, however, preserve both their culture and their cuisine."

Throughout history, of course, there have been all manner of claims for the bulb. The ancient Romans held it in high repute as an aphrodisiac. It has also been regarded by some as a remedy for everything from earaches to insomnia.

Nowadays, on health food counters, a customer may find odor-free garlic capsules, labeled "sociable garlic."

This is nothing less than unthinkable to a purist such as Harris, champion of the bulb-snatchers.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World