Tell an old-timer that New York City foodies buy garlic scapes for $6/lb, and they’ll shake their heads so hard you can feel the breeze. It wasn’t too long ago that garlic farmers simply left their snapped-off scapes in the fields to rot. The idea that top chefs would be clamoring for these garlic farm by-products was unthinkable a mere 10 years ago.
What is a garlic scape? Simply put, they’re the “flower stalks” of a garlic plant. In most northern areas, garlic cloves are planted in the fall and send up their first leaves in the spring. The first warm, long days of summer trigger the plant to send up a very curly “flower stalk” – which doesn’t actually form a flower at all. If left unpicked, the stalk will form small bulbils at its end, which could be planted to grow more garlic. However, most farmers prefer to snap off this central reproductive stalk to redirect the plant’s energy back underground. The result is a much larger garlic bulb come harvest time in late summer.
This stalk, or scape, is very tender if picked early, right after it shoots up. It has the consistency of asparagus or green beans. When young enough it can be chopped and added raw to salads. When a little older it can be sauteed and added to eggs or pasta. Many folks simply toss them on a grill until they’re tender. We love to make a garlic scape pesto with them. The taste is, naturally, very garlicky. Some people claim it’s stronger than fresh garlic cloves, some say it’s milder. We say it’s roughly the same.
Since the season for scapes is very unpredictable and very short-lived, we usually find that we can’t use all of the freshly harvested scapes quickly enough. (You’ll probably only see them appear in your farmers market for 2-3 weeks, tops.) Luckily scapes are easily preserved – either by freezing, dehydrating, or pickling. We choose to dehydrate ours since freezer space becomes scarce later in the summer as more crops come in. (This is the dehydrator we use. It’s large and is usually in use all summer long preserving garden produce.) When later added to winter soups and stews, the chopped and dried stalks are a very welcome (if garlicky) breath of summer days.
We dehydrate ours at about 125 degrees F, for 6-11 hours (depending on humidity levels.) Once fully dried, they can either be left in one-inch pieces to be added to soups & stews or whirled in a food processor until powdered.