Selecting and Storing Garlic
When you're at the market, avoid any bulbs that appear soft or damaged, or are sprouting (if it was a wet spring and summer, the cloves may start to grow right away and split the bulb apart even before harvest). Look for undamaged cloves for long-term storage.
The easiest way to store garlic at home is in mesh bags or loosely woven baskets. Garlic with flexible tops can be made into pretty braids to hang; see Organic Gardening's online slideshow for an easy how-to. But garlic with a stiff central stalk—often called hardneck garlic—will shatter if you try to braid it.
Garlic keeps longest when stored at 60º to 65ºF and moderate humidity. This is what makes storing fresh garlic throughout the winter so hard: Heated winter homes tend to be very, very dry—so dry that garlic cloves will shrivel up and turn rock-like inside their papery skins after just a month or two (if that ever happens to yours, just toss 'em, skins and all, into your next batch of vegetable stock). One trick is to store garlic under an unglazed clay flowerpot in a cupboard, creating a small humidor without completely cutting off air circulation, which can lead to rot problems.
Lacking storage space for an upside-down flower pot? There are a few other easy ways to store garlic that won't undermine its flavor.
In the Refrigerator
Storing garlic in the crisper drawer of your fridge takes care of the humidity problem. Just be aware that once garlic has been in the cold, it will start sprouting within days after being brought to room temperature (this is why garlic from the store often sprouts). So if you store it this way, keep it in the fridge till just before you're ready to use it. If your garlic does sprout, grow some tasty garlic greens by popping the bulb in a small pot of soil on your windowsill.
Leftover peeled cloves or chopped garlic can be stored for a couple of weeks in the fridge in a small, tightly covered container, but this method is not a good option for long-term storing. The minced garlic you can buy in jars at the supermarket has been acidified to keep it safe and usable for months, but I've never been able to find any tested recipes for safely doing this at home.
In the Freezer
You can freeze garlic, though some people think frozen garlic isn't quite as good as fresh. The quickest way to prep it for freezer storage is to put the peeled cloves into a food processor or blender with a little water, pulse until they are evenly minced, and then freeze the puree in ice cube trays or spread it out in a thin (and eventually breakable) layer on a silicone sheet. Once frozen, store the cubes or pieces in an airtight container.
Dry Your Garlic
Making your own dehydrated garlic is very easy. Thinly slice your peeled garlic (a food processor with a batch loader can do this really quickly), and pop the slices into your food dehydrator, or into a barely warm oven with the door propped slightly open; you want to maintain a temperature of 115°F. Once the slices are crisp, store them in an airtight container as is or chop them in a blender before storing them in an airtight container. Dried garlic stores well at room temperature for many months, as long as the container is airtight and tightly sealed.
Make Flavored Oil
Once you have dried garlic slices, you can make a delicious garlic-flavored oil by putting a handful of the slices in a small jar and covering them with olive oil. Use the softened slices and/or the flavored oil for making salad dressings or cooking.
Please note: Putting fresh (undried) garlic in oil creates the perfect environment for botulism to develop and you really, really don't want to mess with botulism. If you do make a fresh garlic and oil mixture, always keep it in the fridge and plan to use it up or toss it within three weeks.
This is my absolute favorite way to enjoy garlic, and roasted garlic can be stored in the freezer indefinitely. It's also a great way to rapidly deal with a bumper crop, since you don't have to peel the garlic at all! Roasted garlic is more mellow than fresh and can be used for just about anything you use fresh garlic for. It's amazing spread on good crusty bread or dropped onto a pizza.
To roast garlic bulbs, lightly grease a casserole dish with olive oil, chuck in some clean bulbs, and bake at 350ºF until the bulbs are soft and squishy, usually about 45 minutes. Snip the tips off the bulbs and cloves and squeeze out the incredibly tasty, and now soft, flesh. Freeze the garlic in an airtight freezer container (it'll last about a week in the fridge). Its high oil content means it never freezes hard, and you can scoop the clove contents out with a spoon as needed.
One final way to store all your garlic is to pickle it. Pickling mellows garlic out, making whole cloves mild enough to be tossed raw into salads or served as nibbles along with olives and such. And if you've ever tried pickling vegetables before, the process is exactly the same (for detailed pickling instruction see Pickling Cucumbers at Home: Easier than You Think). An easier way is to make refrigerator pickles, which involves nothing more than tossing your peeled garlic cloves into a jar with some salt and vinegar and leaving that in the back of your refrigerator until you run out; they'll keep indefinitely. For more on refrigerator pickling, see Easy Refrigerator Pickles, No Canning Needed.
Farm gal, library worker, and all-around money-pincher Jean Nick shares advice for green thrifty living every Thursday on Rodale.com.