By Heidi Lewis
In the garden, garlic (of the genus Allium) is one of the more exotic-looking plants. Some varieties have little rocket nose-cones on the ends of tall spires that look like they’re trying for atmospheric escape velocity. The heads of hardneck garlic and elephant garlic look like fountain pen tips that lead their long stems in twirls and loops as if they’re signing their names or chasing a bee. The twirly flower stalks are the scapes (flowering stems) of the garlic — yet another blissfully garlicky and edible part of this important plant.
The scapes are an important signal to the farmer. If left to grow, they will blossom into pink flowers that look like exploding stars. If snipped at the scape stage, the plant’s energy goes back down to feed the all-important garlic bulb. Toward the end of the growing season, the garlic is pulled up and cured into the white, papery, pungent garlic bulbs we know so well. If pulled early, it’s known as “green” or “spring” garlic.
Louis Diat, a famous turn-of-the-20th-Century chef, said dramatically, “Without garlic, I simply would not care to live.” Well, he lived a long time and brought French country cooking, which relies on all parts of the garlic plant, to America. Garlic is indeed the anchor for many of the world’s cuisines. Dried garlic bulbs keep throughout the year, but garlic scapes are a spring/early summer treat. Other alliums, such as onions, chives, and ramps, are also tender in the spring but don’t have the fun twirls.
Preparation: Use the scapes as you might asparagus: cook lightly. Used as a festive ingredient for pizza or a frittata, their mild garlicky-ness will be revealed. Or wrangle them into a pesto.
Storage: Garlic scapes store well, although they taste best when fresh. Keep in a paper bag in the fridge for a few weeks, or chop and freeze for later use.
Heidi Lewis writes about farms, bees, and fruit from her home in Sonoma County, CA. She's been with The FruitGuys since they were FruitKids.