posted by Maryellen Driscoll
In about a month’s time we’ll wake up to a swath of “scapes” dangling just above our garlic planting. These green, edible curlicue-type shoots sprout from the center stalk of a garlic plant. Most growers agree that they are best removed–that way the garlic plant channels its energy into the underground bulb, not the shoot. So we snap them off, and let them drop to the ground.
Two of our interns last year couldn’t believe this. So they salvaged as many scapes as they could to make “pesto” and freeze it for their college’s food cooperative. The thing is, we grow a lot of garlic for a small farm. Last year our planting was around 30,000 heads. And scape snapping is time-consuming and back-straining work. So dropping them as you hunch over and snap along, plant after plant, row after row, makes the most sense, and these two girls soon realized this. We’ve always seen it as organic material simply going back into the soil. Besides, at our markets, scapes have never sold well. We joke that it’s like trying to make a buck off one’s garden trash.
One of the interns, however, kept thinking about these discarded scapes. She e-mailed us in the fall to let us know that she’d learned they can be used to grow something like a garlic scallion in the spring. Little did we know that after tilling under our garlic beds and all of those discarded scapes last fall, we’d seeded in just that.
So this spring we have a 60-by-300-foot swath of spring garlic plants as a result. It’s been fantastic. One talented local chef keeps buying them by the case. When I asked what he uses them for, he said, “Everything.” They’re flying off the table at our farmer’s markets. And I use them, myself, every day pretty much three meals a day (provided we have eggs for breakfast).
This spring garlic (also known as green garlic) looks a lot like a scallion but has the flavor essence of garlic. When I cut into a stalk, the entire kitchen smells like a breeze just blew over our garlic crop and into the kitchen. That’s enough to keep me slicing away. I use as much of the plant as I can, stopping about mid-way up the stalk when the green portion gets too tough and stringy. I either compost that portion or use it as an aromatic when cooking broth or dried beans.
Since the garlic is young and is not cured (a post-harvest drying process that concentrates the flavor of full-grown garlic), the flavor is more peppy than pungent. I’ve found its delicate flavor will get lost if cooked too long, and, like regular garlic, bitter if overly browned. For those reasons, I treat it like I would a scallion—chopped into all things salad (egg salad, potato salad, vinaigrettes), used as a garnish for hummus or other bean purees, or briefly wilted in olive oil and then tossed into a weeknight pasta dish with spring greens. Right now, it’s my favorite thing coming out of our gardens. And it was all by accident.