The Tale of the Garlic Scape

I present to you: the Curly Tale of the Garlic Scape. (Farming pun!)

More than once it’s struck me that much of farming turns out to be running interference on nature. A carrot, for instance, is a storage root developed by industrious, frilly green leaves, a stockpile of energy set aside to get the plant through winter’s hungry months. The carrot intends to flower in the spring, get pollinated, set seeds, and scatter them. But do they? Nope. I pull ’em up before they ever get the chance.

Dante, ruining the hopes and dreams of some perfectly innocent carrots.

This too is the case of the garlic scape.

Garlic’s life cycle is a lot like other spring flowers: the bulb is planted in fall, and it sits dormant during winter. In early spring, new growth appears–about the same time as crocuses emerge. Garlic doesn’t flower right away, though; its tall stem and tough leaves grow steadily above ground, as the bulb swells below.

Enter the garlic scape. By mid-June, a tender round flower stalk curls its way out of the garlic greens, fueled by the energy reserves of the bulb underground. The flower, left to its own devices, blooms, gets pollinated, and sets seeds that look like tiny individual garlic cloves. This reproductive enterprise is costly to the plant itself: new seeds are set, but the bulb below withers and begins to break apart.

We don’t want that. We want thick, pungent garlic bulbs! And hence, as the scapes emerge, here comes the farmer: “Not so fast, scape. You thought you’d eat up the garlic bulb, huh? Not on my watch!” Snip, snip, snip. Unburdened by flower production, the garlic bulbs mature, and we dig them up just a few weeks later.

But wait! The scapes get a happy ending, too! It turns out they are delicious. Garlicy, but not spicy, and tender as a green bean. Some recipes get really fancy with scapes, but our favorite way to enjoy them is so easy, it doesn’t even count as a recipe: Chop the scapes up into green bean sized lengths and sautee them in olive oil until they are soft but still have some crunch. You’ll thank us, so–you’re welcome.

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