Food as Obsession: The Great Garlic Scape Escapade

Pickled Dilly Garlic Scapes

wine crate of scapes

(Vegetarian, Vegan, Wine Pairing)

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I drove 451 miles and back for garlic scapes. That’s nearly 8 hours each way. Drove on and on, through an otherworld of two-lane landscaped with soybeans and corn fronds wilting in the overbearing humidity, I caught up on The Splendid Table, My Life as a Foodie, and To the Best of Our Knowledge and then, when the podcasts ran out, I indulged in garlic-tinted daydreams. Before you diagnose me, know this: they were heirloom garlic scapes.

Oh, scapes. They’re a racket, really. You see, those scapes have to be cut. Botanically speaking, a scape is a flowering stem that rises from the bulb or root of a plant. Plants have limited energy, so if the garlic scape is removed, then the plant directs everything toward making strong, fat, firm, juicy bulbs — the bread and butter of the garlic farmer. On most large farms, the pesky scapes are cut and discarded. Knowing this full well, I nevertheless squealed and clapped  and handed over my 50-cents-each when I spied the first batch of curling spears balanced in a tin vase at the market. Small-scale farmers are pretty smart.

field of scapes

scapes in field

So when I got the opportunity to go scape hunting on an heirloom garlic farm, I pointed my car north and drove. My friend Steph and I met up and together, protected only by scissors and nudged onward by persistent dreams of subtly nuanced pesto, we systematically liberated that infinitude of a garlic field from its scapes. There were just a handful of varieties that were ready to be snipped – German Extra Hardy, Pskem River, Siberian, Persian Star, Georgian Crystal, and one of the hottest garlics around, Georgian Fire.

I’ll tell you more about each variety over the coming weeks, but for now, know this: each variety is brilliantly distinct, just as the eventual cloves will be. For example, the scapes of the Georgian Crystal are mild and grassy, whereas those of the Georgian Fire are definitely cutting teeth. Each variety has a flavor worthy of celebration, so stay tuned.

Tis scape season, and if you’ve grabbed the scissors and are heading outside too, here are a few things to keep in mind: Scapes should be cut just when they begin to curl, like so:

curling scapes

Cut them too soon and they’ll work up the determination of a GDR biker, continuing to grow and thus effectively leaching everything from the bulb underground and leaving it hollow. Plus you won’t get much for your scape-snipping troubles.  Also keep in mind that size does matter, at least when it comes to flavor. The bigger the scape, the more intense the garlic flavor – and generally the hotter. Even so, scapes are gentle enough to be used fresh in salads and vinaigrettes, or sautéed and eaten like beans. Last bit of advice? Don’t cut scapes when you’ve been driving for 8 hours with barely a bathroom break and just a mozzarella stick for lunch. The aroma is intoxicating and inspires a painful longing in the empty stomach.

scape field vertical scapes in bowl vertical

So. You still think I’m crazy? You should talk to Simon then. He found my obsessive excursion to be amusing, endearing, undeniably odd, yet invariably typical. None of you have any idea how bad it could get though. There are nearly 540 known varieties of garlic in the world.  Six down… .

The Recipe

What does a girl do with 10 pounds of fresh garlic scapes? First, she pickles.  Perhaps you’re not the pickle addict that I am, but try this and I bet you will be. True enough, the first time I was presented with pickled garlic I was hesitant to put a whole clove in my mouth. It was a revelation then when I bit in and found that in the vinegar had mellowed the harsh, hot flavor. Scapes are much softer to begin with,  and pickling enhances their garlic flavor while smoothing any sharp edges.

brown bowl scapes half pickling scapes half

packed scapes(2)

Steph – yes, the same Steph of garlic scape fame – introduced me to this recipe with her (also famous) dilly beans and pickled garlic.  The brine produces crispy, deeply flavored pickles that keep a rich color and firm texture. We’re both putting up our scapes this way, and we’re so confident in the formula that we’ll unequivocally tell you to go ahead and use it too.  But we’ll report back in a few weeks just to confirm.

And the wine. I guess  you’ve noticed. I do seem to enjoy giving Lucy a headache. But this wasn’t as difficult as I expected it might be. When I asked for her sage wine pairing advice for dilly garlic scapes, here’s what she offered: This might not be as unusual as you’d think.  If you are treating it as antipasti, why not pair it with Pinot Bianco or Soave?  Both are crisp Italian whites that can hold their own with all manner of pickled veggies.  (Please, in the name of all that is grapey goodness, don’t substitute Pinot Grigio for the Pinot Bianco.  It’s too light and lemony to do much of anything for the garlic.)  Savingnon Blanc and Gruner Veltliner also hold up well with all manner of truculent veggies.  Avoid Savingnon Blanc from New Zealand in this case.  There might be too much citrus or grass to harmonize with the briney taste.  Finally, should you decide to nestle the garlic in a sandwich, a very dry rose would be refreshing.  My personal favorite this summer is rose of Syrah.  The finish is a bit drier than a rose of Pinot Noir.

Dilly Pickled Garlic Scapes
3 lbs fresh garlic scapes, grassy tops removed
16 heads fresh dill
A sprinkle of dried dill seed
A few garlic cloves if you feel like adding them
1/2 cup canning or pickling salt
4 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
4 cups water
8 small piquin chiles or other hot, dried smoked peppers (optional)
Whole peppercorns

Makes about 8 pints (I used a combination of pint and half-pint jars)

Wash and dry the scapes. If you’re planning to slice them, now is the time. I couldn’t decide – they looked so pretty wound into coils in the jars, but they take up a lot more space that way. I ended up with a mixture of wound scapes and cut pieces – see photo.

Working with sterilized jars, place 2 dill heads, a sprinkling of dill seed, a few peppercorns, a chile and, if using, the garlic cloves, into each jar. Place the scapes inside the jars, packing them tightly but leaving about ½ inch at the top.

In a large saucepan combine the vinegar, water and pickling salt over medium heat. Stir well to dissolve the salt, and bring to a boil. Pour hot liquid over the scapes, again leaving about ½ inch at the top. Place lids on the canning jars, tighten the bands and then process them in a boiling hot water bath for 7-10 minutes. The water should completely cover the jars, and either during the processing or very soon after, the centers of the jars will pop down, indicating that they are sealed.

*note: it’s important to use sterilized jars for canning. You can find information on how to do this here.

Another note: The top part of scapes tend to be grassy and stringy and not so good for eating. Use this part:

edible scape portion

and discard this part (or use it for a rich, aromatic veggie broth):

scape waste

What good is Georgian Fire? Want to make a really tasty stock with your garlic scape waste? Subscribe now to Becky and the Beanstock and never miss a recipe.

12 Responses to “Food as Obsession: The Great Garlic Scape Escapade”

  1. Kelli says:

    wow, what tremendous fun! That’s dedication to a cause, driving that far (but what’s the cause? Food or heirlooms? Both?) I’m not so good at pickling but I loved this post.

  2. Lauren says:

    They’re very pretty. It’s so cool that you’re able to try different varieties together, and I look forward to hearing more about their flavor. Can you tell us what else you put in the broth you made with the tips? I’ve had Gregorian Fire garlic and you’re right, it’s very hot.

  3. This is the first year I’ve ever even seen garlic scapes at the Farmers Market. And they looked more like the parts you said to discard. What’s a girl to do? Any farms I can drive 8 hours to around here? You’re hilarious btw :-)

    • Becky says:

      Michelle — the round “bottom” part of the scape, below the white… well, whatever that white thing is that looks a bit like a hat (this is a miserable description, I realize) is the part for eating. The half where it gets grassy and thin is the part to discard. I hope i”m not just making it worse… I’ve actually eaten the whole thing, but the bigger the scape is, the tougher and more fibrous the top portion becomes. If it’s not edible you’ll be able to tell, and it’s okay, experimenting won’t poison you!

  4. I think I might have to drive farther than 451 miles to get some garlic scapes. Are they more solid in cross-section than a chive? The pickles sound amazing.

  5. Bill says:

    Funny how routine things become trendy. We grew our food growing up and we would eat the scapes the way some people eat green onions. My mom cooked with them and they were just a bonus, and we knew that the garlic was only a month or so away when scapes came up.

  6. Sarah Caron says:

    Ok. I thought I was a little crazy for dragging my son in the pouring rain to the farmers market on the off chance that we would find some garlic scapes, but it sounds like you want to wayyyyy greater lengths. I am so jealous, btw :)

    Those pickled scapes sound delish! Unfortunately I don’t have access to that many scapes … but I am bookmarking this for next year. Hopefully I can figure out a way to obtain them.

    Mmm, I just love picked things.

  7. Mike Post says:

    Cool post, I just subscribed. Big garlic fan

  8. lo says:

    I’m having a seriously difficult time preventing myself from making bad puns about the great garlic eSCAPE. 10LBS!!!??? Now that measley pile of them I have sitting in the fridge doesn’t seem very kewl. Thanks a lot :)

    Joking aside, pickled scapes is just brilliant. I’d eat them on everything, I’m quite sure. And then I’d eat more of them by themselves.

    Now, as for you driving all that way for your stash — my gosh, Becky. We’d TOTALLY do that.

  9. ok – i had no idea…
    and now i am jealous

    i love those things
    they’re totally delicious

    but i learned a lot from this post
    i mean who knew this much about scapes???

  10. Nywoman says:

    Saw my first scapes today at the farmers market. A bargain @ $7.99 lb, had no idea that the farmer had to cut them in order to get the bulbs to mature.
    This is NYC where many things are more expensive.

    Bought 1/2 lb and will try them in a potato salad as well as with Bluefish.

    Great blog, and yes I get it about driving for 16 hours back and forth.

  11. Entertaining and deeply informative! I came here to find out exactly what scapes were – I knew they couldn’t just be the flower stem in any stage – and you covered every detail I wanted to know.

    Heck, a 16-hr road trip for a great adventure – if we can’t do that sometimes, we might just as well be dead.