Have you ever been in a conversation where everyone in earshot is talking about something that you know nothing about?
This might have been some of you in the past few weeks if you have any avid gardener friends who have garlic in their gardens.
The conversation will go something like this: “Hey, what do you guys do with all of your garlic scapes?”
And you might be, “uhhh what’s a garlic scape?”
Well, as always, I’m here to serve!
What is a Garlic Scape?
Garlic scapes are the tender stem and flower bud of a hardneck garlic (which is the kind of garlic that typically grows in Canada and the northeastern U.S.). Scapes first grow straight out of the ground from garlic bulb, and then, as they grow, they coil. When harvested, they look like long, curly green beans.
If you leave them on the plant, the end will grow into a bulbous stalk which will eventually burst open and, if not taken away, will replant itself into the ground.
How Do You Pick Garlic Scapes?
What you want to do is find the curly scape and move your fingers down to the leaf part of the garlic plant. Using your two fingers, snap it like this (below):
If you snap it just above the leafy part, it will callous over and the nutrients will travel back down to the garlic head growing in the ground (just like any plant that flowers, when you leave the flower, the plant starts to think that it is finished growing and needs to focus on making seeds – in the flower – to reassure itself that it will continue its growth next season).
I’ve seen some people pull the scape out of the plant (in order to get more ‘scape’) but you can see below that when it is pulled out, it leaves a hollow space for water to collect which will give the plant more opportunity to rot.
Now that you have a harvest of garlic scapes, how are we going to store them (until we decide what we’ll make with them)?
How Do You Store Garlic Scapes?
Scapes are very easy plants. Because they grow up and out of the garlic, they hardly have any dirt on them, and they will keep for a very long time, tucked in a bag in your crisper drawer. Before using them, cut off the stringy, fibrous tip from the flower end, and trim off the very bottom of the stem.
Another method I use to savor the mild garlic scape flavor, is to chop them into small pieces and freeze in freezer-safe containers. This makes it easy to grab a handful of garlic scapes and add them to soups, stews, stir fry, or anywhere else that you would use garlic. The garlic scapes hold up really well to freezing and stay firm (sort of like chives!!).
What to Do with Garlic Scapes to Tone Down Their Pungency?
The first thing to understand about garlic scapes is that their garlicky punch can be a little be too powerful for some. If you are that ‘do not give me all-the-garlic-breath’ person, just put them in salted, boiling water for about 30 seconds then remove and place into an ice bath to stop the cooking. Then, use them in one of the following ways:
Recipes for Garlic Scapes:
1. Making Scape Pesto
Probably the most popular use for garlic scapes is pesto, either using all garlic scapes or mixing the scapes with herbs like basil, lemon balm or dill. This pesto (if made with raw scapes and without the addition of other herbs) can be very pungent, but it mellows after a few months in the freezer. My favourite is using it with some basil (I feel like the sweetness of the basil is a great compliment!). Head over to The Spruce Eats to see how Kerry makes her Garlic and Basil scape pesto! Also, my friend Katy has a great arugula scape pesto recipe too (you can see it here!!)
2. Making Grilled Scapes
I’m pretty sure the next most popular way to use scapes is to grill them. They are super simple to make (and awesome when you’re barbecuing some other things…just toss with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bbq for about two minutes. Turn them over when they begin to char a bit and finish with an extra sprinkle of flaky salt and maybe a bit of lemon juice. They are quite mellow and remind me a lot of asparagus!
3. Making Scape Compound Butter
If you’ve ever had compound butter (which is literally whipped butter with added ingredients), then you can imagine how lovely it would be with some scapes added in. Now picture a disc of this on a beautifully charred steak just being finished on the grill (uhhhh, pass me the sourdough!!). Compound butter can also be frozen!!
4. Canning Garlic Scapes
If you love pickles and garlic, then you are going to love the flavor of pickled garlic scapes. If you want to try your hand at this (small batches are the best way to see if you like them!!), head on over to Serious Eats and see how Melissa pickles hers!! Also,. I just did a post on the most epic Garlic scape, jalapeno and basil pepper jelly!! You can read all about it here!!
5. Using Scapes as Vegetable
As we said before, a cooked scape oddly reminds me of asparagus and cooks up like thin green beans so, scapes will obviously work well as a vegetable, cut into lengths and added to stir-fries or blanched and added to raw dishes like salads. I am eying this recipe for Tempura Garlic Scapes which I think would be faaaabulous!! You could also try a simple grilled recipe like this one here!
6. Using Scapes the Way You Would Use Garlic
You can slice or chop scapes to whatever length you like and use them the same way you would use garlic. Just remember, scapes lose a lot of their pungency when sautéed so use more scapes than you would use cloves.
If I’ve made you curious and you’d like to grow your own next year, here is a post I did on planting garlic so you’ll be ready for it this fall!!!
And finally, if you have issues with bats around your house (and you’ve watched too many Dracula movies) you’ll be needing some pungent garlic in your life (that was a little joke to thank y’all for reading to the end of the post ;))