I have been impatient for this year’s garlic scapes and as it turned out, they arrived on the first day of November.
This is the third year that I’ve grown garlic and I have come to love the scapes as much as I love the bulbs. I first learnt about scapes when they turned up in a delivered box of vegies, along with an information sheet and some recipes. I made the pesto recommended by the grocer and was an instant convert. Another reason to love garlic, if you needed one.
WHAT ARE SCAPES?
A scape is the hard flower stem that grows out of the middle of garlic foliage in late spring or early summer, in certain varieties. They taste like a mild, tangy harby garlic, without the hot peppery effect of raw garlic. They form loops and circles in the garden and are quite beautiful. The scapes of different varieties behave reliably – so the scapes on Rocambole group varieties will form 360 or even 720 circles, while the scapes on Turban group varieties will form an upside down U shape. For more on garlic groups and varieties, look at this wonderful website: australiangarlic.net.au .
SCAPES IN THE EDIBLE GARDEN
I love scapes so much because they are beautiful in the garden, have a wonderful flavour and they come at this time of year during the hungry gap, after you may have used up the last of your stored garlic from last year and before your new maincrop garlic is ready for harvest. Scapes have a wide variety of uses in the kitchen, and they can be preserved.
So scapes help extend your harvest and they taste wonderful – they deserve a place in the kitchen garden and I’m now growing mostly only these varieties. However, varieties of garlic that grow scapes tend to have a shorter storage life than those that don’t, so I think it’s probably a good idea to balance your plantings with both types to ensure you make it through the year with your own garlic, if that’s your goal.
I recommend looking at this diagram of the garlic plant before reading on. A few weeks ago I noticed the first scapes peeking out from my garlic plants. They look a little different to the other leaves when they start to grow.
As they grow the difference becomes more pronounced as you see where the bulbils are forming. The scape is the part below the purple coloured bulbil in the photo below:
Eventually the bulbils start to bulge width-ways as they grow. Inside their papery covering, the bulbils look like tiny garlic cloves, and can be planted to produce new plants, although when very tiny they will take two-three years to produce a bulb with edible-sized cloves.
SCAPE GROWING VARIETIES
Garlic varieties that grow scapes are categorised as hardneck varieties. Softnect groups are silverskin and artichokes. The remaining nine groups are hardneck.
WEAKLY V STRONGLY BOLTING
Within the hardneck varieties, there are both strongly and weakly bolting varieties. Weakly bolting means that the garlic may not grow a scape if it is not stressed by cold conditions – so they may not produce scapes in warmer climates. They usually produce scapes late in the growing season.
Strongly bolting varieties produce strong scapes early in the season, which often form full loops or even double loops.
The hardneck varieties I planted this year (two full bulbs of each) were:
- Ail de Pays Du Gers (from the Creole group of cultivars, weakly bolting)
- Dynamite Purple (also from the Creole group)
- Early Purple (from the Turban group of cultivars, also weakly bolting)
Unfortunately, I didn’t write down where I planted which varieties, so I can’t really enlighten you about whether they’ve lived up to their scape expectations (nyuk nyuk). To make matters worse, I also planted a variety called Rose du Var, but there is both a hardneck and a softneck variety in Australia by that name and I have no idea which one I have.
But we live in a cool temperate climate, so I would think that weakly bolting varieties would flower here. At the time of writing, I think I only have two varieties sending up scapes, although it’s possible that if one of the varieties is not that close to harvest I may yet see them come up. I need to do some more investigations to see if I can identify which variety I planted where. So sorry reader, not very helpful if you wanted to know about these varieties.
Scapes are ready to harvest in spring and summer, when they are green and soft, and before the umbel has split open to reveal the bulbils inside. When harvesting the scapes, cut close to the bottom where the leaves protrude without cutting the other leaves. Penny Woodward, a wonderful source of knowledge on all things garlic, recommends cutting in warm dry weather to help the wound heal as quickly as possible.
Everything I have read says you should harvest the scapes regardless of your culinary intentions, so that the plant does not direct energy to the growing bulbils, at the expense of the bulb growing under the soil.
It’s important to note that with varieties in the Turban or Creole groups of hardneck (scape-producing) garlics, the scape appears late in the growth cycle, and is a sign that your garlic bulbs should be harvested imminently (usually within a few weeks) or your bulbs may burst at the seams, inviting rot and ruining chance of long storage. In the Turban group leaving the scape on is said not to affect final bulb size, so if you know you have this variety, you could leave the scapes on. Don’t leave them on for Creole varieties.
SCAPES IN THE KITCHEN
Eat them cooked or raw, whichever way, scapes taste wonderful. You can use them like chives in dishes, or like basil in a pesto. Or you can use them like beans or asparagus and saute, grill, steam, or blanch them. You can also preserve scapes.
Cut the scape just below the bulge of the bulbils and discard bulbils and beak (and consider planting out bulbils if they are big enough). Discard any overly woody parts of the scape, particularly near the bottom, as you would for asparagus.
This pesto is a great introduction to the wonder of scapes. It is garlicy but not overpoweringly so as raw garlic can be. It has a tangy, lemony, herby taste that is a really lovely alternative to basil pesto. I leave out the cheese because I find it too rich. I also add just enough oil to bring it together.
Put 3/4 cup of chopped scapes, juice and zest of 1/2 lemon, 1/3 cup of toasted nuts (hazelnuts, pine nuts, walnuts or almonds), and salt and pepper to taste in a food processor and pulse until just combined. Slowly add up to 1/3 cup of olive oil (to your taste).
I like to leave this pesto a little chunky so you can identify small bits and pieces. Last night I made this pesto, mixed it with a tablespoon of hot water and mixed through some pasta that I added blanched and sauteed tuscan kale and broadbeans (double -shelled).