Sampling Scapes

garlic scapes

Garlic is not a mainstay of our garden. We have grown it a few times, but most years we struggle to find garlic bulbs in the fall, when it’s time to plant.

Last year, though, I asked at my farmers market: Will you be selling any seed garlic this year? When should I look for it?

Then I asked again. And I may have been on the brink of annoying when word came down that one of my favorite farmers in the world would be offering some of her own seed garlic to customers who pre-ordered. I happily plunked down my cash for a bag of beautiful looking bulbs.

My husband separated the cloves and dug them down on our South-facing bank. They sat tight and dreamed of spring (like the rest of us) through our coldish, snowyish winter.

Come March, we had tall green stalks standing like soldiers across that front-yard bed. By summer solstice, we calculated, we’d have garlic.

And not just enough to saute and stir into salsa and marinara. We were going to have garlic to string up in the basement, saving it through summer and fall, maybe even till the first of next year.

But weeks before harvest, I learned, there was one more maintenance job to do — a job that turned out to have a pretty nice payoff.

At the end of May, I walked through my garlic formation, and I snipped off the tight curls the plant had sent up. The garlic was flowering. It was my job to … you guessed it … nip it in the bud, so all the plant’s energy would be spent making a big, tasty garlic head.

But these curlicue stems with their hard, white flower were not destined for the compost pile. They’re called scapes. You might have seen them piled high on tables at your farmers market in recent weeks. It turns out, they’re good eating in their own right.

Figuring out exactly how to cook the scapes was tougher than hauling them in. Some information said to eat the flower, some the tender green above the flower and yet other resources recommended sauteeing the tougher green below the bud.

I had a mess of scapes, so I did a little experimenting.

There are many garlic varieties and each produces different flowers. When the scapes are harvested matters, too.

The scapes I gathered had a small flower that turned out to be too fiberous to enjoy. I tried grilling the whole stalk and flower, but found it hard to keep them out of the fire and still not tender enough for my liking.

Over a few days and several recipes, I determined my favorite way to eat my scapes was to dice the stem both below the flower and about two inches above it. I tossed these pungent bits into my cast iron pan with olive oil and sea salt, a bit of onion, perhaps some fresh oregano and whatever other veggies were becoming dinner that night.

The scapes lent a not-quite-garlic-a-little-like hearty-chives flavor that complemented my other spring garden gifts — kale, spinach, peas, early zucchini — as if they were all meant for each other.

My two favorite scape dinners were an Asian stir fry and a spring garden pasta dinner. The stir fry was particularly good — light and tasty, with each vegetable’s flavor standing out, yet all working together beautifully.

Such an unexpected gift, these scapes.