At 40.7 degrees longitude, and 5.200 feet, it is nearing garlic harvest. Leaf tips are browning, the plants’ scapes are coiled, and the heart-shaped pod is getting baggy, readying to open.
My next couple posts will be focused on the mis- or little understood early gift of the garlic plant: the scape – a boon to in-season eaters when the garlic is not ready and all the stored garlic is gone. Part 1 focuses on the harvest. Part 2 tackles what to do with the bounty.
Some people cut their scapes; some do not. The common wisdom is that if you snip them, the plant will divert its energy into bulb formation. But Ron Engelund, author of perhaps the most popular book on garlic cultivation, Growing Great Garlic, concludes that it probably doesn’t matter. He’s heard it all: cut the garlic before the first coil; cut it when the stem shoots upward again, after the coil(s); don’t cut it at all. And of course everyone has a reason for this.
Stanley Crawford writes in A Garlic Testament that he’s only heard of farmers cutting the scape. He leaves it on, and finds that after harvest the bulbils at the tip of the scape continue to mature, doing the important work of yanking moisture out of the bulb.
If you’re confused, ask around locally. It’s very possible that the wise and expertly developed garlic plant has adaptive tendencies we know nothing of. If your soil is dry, maybe you need to snip the stem; in clay soil, maybe it needs to stay.
I cut my scapes every year, primarily because I want to eat something that tastes like fresh garlic, and I am too protective of my bulbs to pull any of them prematurely (But you can do this – just dig the plant and use the bulb in the kitchen. Just know that it won’t keep very long.). Does it hinder bulb development? I don’t think so. I think we get decent sizes, the flavor is unreasonably good, and plenty keep fairly long.
If you cut your scapes, or buy them at the farmer’s market, they seem to be easier to cook with when they’re less mature, more tender. As I mentioned in my last article, you can chop and use them like garlic bulbs.
One potential problem is the sheer volume of scapes you can end up with. A sack full of loops – that’s what I have waiting for me in my fridge. I give you two ideas: 1.) chop, dry, and grind them into a spice. Why not? I don’t know. I will try it and report back. 2.) Use them in a pesto. The question will be whether the woodier stems grind sufficiently. Since we haven’t quite reached the peak of basil season, I I will try cilantro pesto, out of the Rebar cookbook. Again, expect a report on this too.