In the world of garlic, hardnecks provide a sublime treat that softnecks just can’t provide. This early summer delight can be harvested well in advance of the bulbs. What are they you ask? Garlic scapes!
These scapes are the ‘flower stalks’. Now while they don’t produce a flower, they will eventually form bulbils (if the scapes are left on the plant). These bulbils can be planted to grow more garlic, but it will take several years for them to create a large bulb. If scapes are left on the plant, please note that they will divert energy from the bulb. As a result, it is good practice to remove the scape. But for a true treat, don’t toss them in the compost, cook with them instead. If you leave the scape on, you will still be able to harvest garlic, but the bulbs will be smaller.
Harvesting scapes is all about timing. They will rise up above the leaves and begin to curl in early spring. As with most produce, if harvested early, they will be tender enough to eat fresh. They will also have a very mild garlic flavor. But keep in mind that the longer you wait to harvest, the stronger the flavor and the more fibrous the scape becomes. (If you harvest later, you can peel the scape, though it is time-consuming and some find it difficult to peel something so small.) To harvest simply pull on the top of the scape and it should pull up and out of the garlic plant. If the scape does not easily release from the plant, you can snap it off, just above the leaves.
If you harvest the scapes early in the season, you can treat them like fresh chives. Just snip into small pieces and add to mashed potatoes, various egg dishes, casseroles, and even salad dressings. Their mild garlic flavor provides a nice addition to spring dishes.
However, scapes beg to be turned into pesto. A good food processor or blender like a Vitamix can easily turn scapes into a paste. To ease the work of the blender as well as add flavor to the pesto, add a good quality olive oil. Add this slowly so it becomes well incorporated. Season with kosher salt. If the garlic flavor is a little too intense for you, feel free to add other fresh ingredients to your garlic scape pesto. Good additions include: fresh lemon juice, parmesan cheese, toasted nuts such as walnuts, and even other fresh herbs such as parsley.
If you do not have hardneck garlic growing in your own garden, don’t fret. Scapes are a specialty crop that grace farmers’ market from spring through early summer as well as some grocery stores that specialize in artisanal foods.
Add hardneck garlic to your garden. For no more effort than softneck, you can enjoy two unique harvests of both scapes and bulbs. What other garden crop can promise that? Garlic scapes are truly a hardneck delight.