For 80 years there has been one main ingredient, and a single, dominant
theme in Chester Aaron's life: garlic. Watch him work, and you can sense the quiet, solitary calm the man enjoys
as he plants the cloves that will yield next year's crop. And for Chester
Aaron the solitude, and the activity, bring back memories that
revolve around that redolent herb.
Said Chester, "I love doing it because I work outside. I love that.
And there's this family connection, my father, it's genetic." As we'll soon discover, Chester Aaron's life story with garlic is astounding,
but to fully appreciate his past you need a sense of his present, and
an idea of just how much garlic one guy can grow.
"I now have 92 varieties from about 30 different counties",
On his Occidental farm just 50 miles west of Napa, Chester makes a compelling
case that garlic and grapes have much in common. From the vast array of
varieties, with names like Spanish Roja, Creole Red and Asian Tempest,
there's a complexity only a connoisseur could love. And like any self-respecting
connoisseur, Chester is always looking to convert new recruits to the
Said Chester, "Everybody has a different body chemistry and so what's
hot for one person can be mild for another."
When it comes to his work, writer Mimi Luebbermann put it best in saying,
"Chester's changed the way chefs, food writers and purveyors think
about garlic, much as Mondovi convinced people there's more to wine than
red or white one gallon jugs."
"You will hear them talk in the same, almost the same vocabulary
and if you didn't know it you'd think that they were talking about wines",
Growing and knowing nearly a hundred varieties is one thing, but Chester
Aaron has a history with garlic that runs deeper than just his sense of
taste. And it somehow seems fitting that to get to this part of Chester's
story we have to peel back the outer layers to get a core that packs a
"My father used to do the very thing that I'm doing. He had garlic,
which he got from Pittsburg, Russian garlic. He was from Russian Georgia,
and every so often I will think of some little thing he did. When I was
a child and had a toothache my father would make me chew on a clove of
garlic and it would eliminate the pain", said Chester.
Chester soon witnessed garlic relieving more pain. Nine years later, as
a GI battling his way across Europe, garlic once again rears its fragrant
"In combat in World War II, we American soldiers had penicillin,
Russian soldiers did not. I would see a wounded Russian soldier reach
into his pocket and pull out a clove of garlic and rub it on his wound.
We called it Russian penicillin", said Chester.
Chester Aaron's relationship with garlic runs deep. The title of the book
he wrote says it all. Garlic is Life is an ode to the odiferous plant
a recounting of how one plant can change a man's life.
Said Chester, "It changed almost everything, it changed the kinds
of themes that I select to write about, it changed the kinds of characters
I write about."
Like the garlic farmer from Germany who dropped by to see Chester's farm;
a professional visit that quickly became profoundly personal.
"He said, 'Mr. Chester can we walk in your field?' We went out and
he said, 'I read one of your books, you were at Dachau.' And I said, 'Yes the concentration camp I was with the American troops
that liberated Dachau. And he started to cry. He said, 'I too, I was a
guard at Dachau, I ran please forgive me.'
And we went back and forth and I said 'I have no power to forgive you
but we're old men now, we have to try to live our life in peace.' We wrapped
our arms around each other and I walked him to the car and they drove
off that was it.
Forgive me but that's one of the things that would have never happened
to me had it not been for garlic."
Chester Aaron knows it sounds unlikely
garlic as the common thread
in an uncommon life, the thread that connects devoted son to war hero
to teacher to writer and finally to a farmer content with the quiet solitude
that comes with growing garlic.
If you'd like information on how to purchase Chester Aaron's books visit: www.tenspeedpress.com, www.zumayapublications.com and www.virtuallyamerican.com
Photography from the Dachau Memorial Site provided by: http://philip.greenspun.com