Garlic can take up a lot of space and time in the garden, before you get to savor your efforts. If you are growing hardneck garlic, which is the type that does best in the Hudson Valley, you actually get a bonus crop about a month before your garlic is ready to harvest.
Garlic scapes are the flower stalks of garlic plants. They’re those curving, circling stems that form on your garlic plants in late-spring. As with most vegetables grown for their roots, garlic flower stalks are usually cut off to encourage the plant to put all its energy into forming a plump bulbs. If left on the plant, the flower end will eventually form marble-sized bulbs called bulbils. You could plant these, but you would have to wait 2 -3 years for them to become full-sized bulbs and garlic takes long enough as it is. And leaving them on would result in smaller garlic bulbs this year, which is not what we’re going for.
Don’t think of cutting the scapes as deadheading, think of it as harvesting. These flower stalks are delicious, if you catch them while they’re still tender. Don’t wait until they corkscrew around, cut them young. As soon as you see them peeking above the leaves, it’s time to harvest. They will get tough and fibrous, not to mention firey hot, if you leave them to coil. But even if you fall behind and the tiny bulbils start to form, you can harvest and eat them, too.
I should mention that another school of thought thinks leaving the scapes on helps the garlic bulbs store longer. So they may be smaller, but they’ll last longer. If you choose to leave your on the plants, they will eventually straighten out again. When they do, you know it’s time to harvest the bulbs.
What Do You Do with Garlic Scapes?
If you harvested tender scapes, you can chop them and toss them into salad or use as a last minute topping instead of scallions.
If your scapes got a bit too tough to eat fresh, you can stir fry or sautee them lightly in any dish. Scapes also make great pickles and fantastic pesto.
If you aren’t growing garlic, you can still find scapes at most farmers markets. They even freeze well, so you can use them whenever you are ready.
Best Garlic for Scapes
It’s only the hardnect garlics that send up scapes and in particular the Rocombole garlics. That’s how they got the nickname “serpent garlic”. While other hardneck scapes will curve, only the Rocamboles coil around and around.
Rocambole garlic forms large cloves that peel a bit easier than other types, which is always welcome in the kitchen. Unfortunately those loose skins mean the bulbs don’t store very long. You really need to let rocambole bulbs cure well, before storing them away. You should get 4 – 6 large cloves per bulb.
Good choices for Hudson Valley gardens include: ‘Spanish Roja’, ‘German Red’, ‘German Giant’, and ‘Killarney Red’.
Porcelain garlic scapes don’t wind as well as rocambole, but they are tasty none the less and may grow even better in our area. These produce fat cloves wrapped in a thick layer of papery skin. While I love garlic scapes, the porcelain garlics are my favorites for growing and eating. Three that have never failed me are ‘Georgian Fire’, ‘German Extra Hardy’, ‘Music’. Vegetables from Russian and eastern Europe are generally reliable growers in the Hudson Valley. Porcelain garlic bulbs should yield 4 – 8 chubby cloves each.
A Round Up of Garlic Scape Recipes