Fresh easy garlic—all of the flavor and none of the peeling—sounds too good to be true I know. It’s in the scapes, also called garlic whistles, that we can make some wonderful “convenience food” garlic. This processed garlic is alive with flavor and literally alive with nutrients and probiotics.
If you haven’t yet met a scape, it is the stem and immature flower head sent up in early summer by hardneck varieties of garlic. Some scapes are long and lean, like asparagus. In fact for years I thought of scapes as garlic-flavored asparagus and cooked them accordingly. Other varieties produce scapes that are very curly, almost like ringlets. Either way, when harvested early garlic scapes are excellent fermented.
I promised easy and convenient. My number one fermenting choice for garlic scapes is making a fermented garlic scape paste. This simple ferment can go from garden to fermenting vessel in just a few minutes. Once fermented it lasts for months in the refrigerator and with a dip of a spoon you can add mild fresh minced garlic flavor (and bonus live probiotics) to any dish. As summer heats up and the energy for cooking evaporates, this paste can quickly turn the garden vegetables into delicious dishes. Mix the paste with a little olive oil to drizzle over fresh tomatoes, stir a spoonful of paste into yogurt and cucumbers for tzatziki, or into a pasta salad. Mix garlic scape paste into a burger to add a gourmet touch or rub garlic scape paste into vegetables such as summer squash, or meats, that are headed for the grill.
The immature flower heads are a delicacy, as they have a gentle garlic flavor. If you have young shoots they are delicious pickled whole in a brine. The garlic alone has enough flavor to make a great pickle but I like to add a few peppercorns and fresh herbs to the ferment. Arrange as many as you can in a jar. Take your time and have fun with this part and you will be rewarded by the beauty of these pickles. The curly ones can be twisted into little knots and stacked. The straight ones look great lined up with sprigs of fresh herbs tucked between them. Submerge in pickle brine—use ¼ cup salt to every half-gallon of unchlorinated water and ferment on the counter for two to three weeks; monitor the brine level to make sure everything stays submerged. Top off with fresh brine as needed. You will know they are ready when the verdant green has changed to a dull color. The brine will be cloudy and they will smell distinctly sour, like pickles.
Scapes can also be used as an ingredient in other ferments, especially when the garlic heads are not quite ready. Often our first fresh krauts and kimchis of the season use the scapes as a substitute for garlic cloves since the bulbs are not fully developed and the over-wintered garlic is gone, dried out, or sprouting. They have a smooth garlic flavor that mellows a bit with fermentation, so if you are using scapes as a substitute for garlic cloves don’t feel shy about the conversion. You can use 1 to 2 scapes for every clove you are replacing. If you are creating your own recipe have fun with the flavors. Quick and easy is again the theme. Chop the stems and flower heads into bite-sized pieces and add to a ferment. Here are some guidelines for fermenting in small batches.
Shopping for or growing scapes: a little more information
If you buy your scapes at the farmer’s market you can assume that the variety that the farmer is selling is good for fermenting. The main thing you want to know is that the scapes were harvested early in the season. These will still be tender. The more the scapes have matured the more fibrous they become. While cooking will break down these scapes, fermenting won’t. These scapes will stay quite chewy if pickled whole or in chunks, but they will be perfect for a paste.
If you grow your own garlic it is important to know that not all varietals make great scapes, in fact soft neck varieties don’t make scapes. The curly Rocomboles and Turbans are the first scapes of the season, the Rocomboles being a favorite for flavor and texture. The Creoles have slender curled scapes and are nice for chopping. The Porcelains make rather tough scapes, which should be harvested soon after they sprout. If you find they are tough you can make them into paste as they will be finely chopped in a food processor. The Asiatics have super long stems and "beaks"; this is a bulbil pod instead of a flower pod and is not as fibrous as the Porcelains. If you are like me you have long since forgotten what variety you originally planted—don’t worry as long as you harvest the scapes soon after they pop up you will make great ferments.
Kirsten K. Shockey is a post-modern homesteader who lives in the mountains of Southern Oregon. She writes about sauerkraut and life—but not necessarily in that order. She’s written a complete book of Fermented Vegetables and maintains the website Fermentista’s Kitchen.
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