In Praise of Garlic Scapes…

In the last two months I have been too busy with moving and teaching and writing my other blog to comment on the plethora of things that have moved, angered or delighted me. If memory was a little better able to serve, and time were in long supply, I would recount them for you in full. Instead, I will focus my attention on the one most deserving of illumination: the garlic scape.

For years, I would pick them up at the market, not knowing what they were or what to do with them. I have always been a curious shopper, prone to whimsy and impulse, buying things because they looked cool or interesting or weird. But as it is with much of the natural world, my passion is sensorial, my interest, skin deep. For when it comes to naming or taming or tending to, I am quite happy to leave that to others.

I would bring my garlic scapes home, wash them and put them on the counter. Some time later, I would chop them finely – thinking them akin to garlic in both name and provenance – and then add them in small quantities to a stir-fry or egg scramble. In the first twenty-four hours, we would eat them once, twice, maybe even three times, consuming approximately twenty to thirty percent of their curly green stalks. Some months later, maybe September or October, I would find them at the back of the vegetable crisper, their once juicy stalks withered and brown. I would toss them into the compost, or as it was at the time, the garbage, and think to myself, next year, I will be better.

This year, however, we had friends up to the cottage and realized that between us, we had two big bundles of scapes to contend with. Let’s grill them, said the friend, like asparagus. I laughed and pushed the scapes to their rightful place at the back of the fridge, but she was insistent. She had done it before with great success. Tossed with a little olive oil and sea salt, they lay upon the grill until slightly blackened around the edges, then sat upon our plates in little curly bundles looking especially delicious – which they were. Of the many things to recommend the garlic scape – their relative newness to the palette, their mild and pleasing garlic flavour, their satisfying toothiness – my favorite is the fact that they are best eaten with the hands.

From what I have heard, the scape is simply the stalk of the plant. It soars into the sky, identifying the bulb’s location in the ground, and must be cut a few weeks before the bulb is ready to harvest so that the plant energies are not compromised or misdirected. You can tell they are ready to go when they start to loop around, but if you wait too long they become tough and woody, like old asparagus. For this reason, you can only buy scapes for a few weeks in late June and early July, which means that you must eat as many as you can so that you can cherish these fond memories when the summer’s warmth fades.

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