Discovering Garlic Scapes

Discovering Garlic Scapes

This January, I moved back to the Olympic Peninsula to work on a ship as a maritime educator with middle school students. As schools started to close in March, I found myself having to look for other employment options. This led me to Red Dog Farm, and a spring spent working closely with the land as opposed to on the water. Over the past couple months, I have gradually started to understand and appreciate the flow of farm work. There are many similarities to working on a ship – long days spent outdoors, close attention paid to weather patterns and a need for sturdy rubber rain gear. One of the most engaging parts of farm work has been learning about the life cycles of different vegetables and watching the plants progress through their whole life cycle – from seed to harvest.

Not long after I started working at Red Dog Farm, we began to harvest green garlic plants. As I pulled the strong-smelling stalks from the ground, I rattled off question after question. Is this garlic? Will it turn into garlic? Does it taste like garlic? I love garlic, but had only ever eaten the cloves and bought bulbs at the grocery store. I had never even thought about what the rest of the plant looked like, let alone tastes like. Green garlic is simply an immature garlic plant, harvested before the bulb has fully formed. That night I went home and added some sliced green garlic to my stir fry – it was much simpler to prepare than cloves and added a slightly milder garlic flavor. I was hooked.

During last week’s harvest, I realized I had even more to learn about the life cycle of garlic- the scapes. Garlic plants’ growth accelerates in spring as rising temperatures warm the soil. In the late spring, flower stalks called scapes begin to sprout from the center of plant. The scapes are ready to be harvested when they begin to curl and coil. If the scape is removed, then as the plant continues to grow, more of the garlic flavor will be concentrated in the bulb. If the scapes are left untouched, a bulb will still form, but it will likely be smaller, with a less strong flavor.

Like green garlic, garlic scapes have a milder taste than the bulb, but still have the distinct garlicky flavor. They have a dense texture, similar to asparagus, so are a little tough to eat raw. But they can be prepared in so many different ways – roasted, sautéed, grilled and even pickled. Scapes can easily be substituted for garlic in most recipes but unlike garlic cloves, no peeling!