Along with fresh peas, baby greens and new potatoes, garlic scapes are among the first tastes of Alberta’s short, but bountiful growing season.
Hard vs soft
Scapes are the soft, bright green flower stems that emerge from the centre of hardneck garlic varieties. Hardneck garlic gets its name from this stem. It’s the most common type of garlic grown in Alberta, due to its cold-hardy nature. By comparison, most garlic sold in grocery stores is softneck. Softneck garlic is bigger, with a larger number of cloves than
Scape stems can reach over three feet in height but only the top seven or eight inches is eaten. The flower bulb at the end twirls around in a graceful curlicue that must be picked before it straightens out and becomes hard and inedible.
Trash to table
Jackie Chalmers, owner and operator of New Oxley Garlic, Naturally!, near Claresholm, explains that snapping off the scape is thought to send more energy into the developing bulb of garlic – but the demand for scapes is reason enough to pick them. “When I first started doing this, I could barely give away a scape,” she says. “Last year I would say I sold 90 per cent of my scape crop. When I first started doing it, I was talking to another garlic grower in Saskatchewan … and he said, ‘You know, in New York City, the minute the scapes come into the grocery stores, they’re gone.'”
Get ’em quick
Scapes are picked in a very short window in early July – grab them as soon as you see them. Look for them at farmers’ markets or specialty grocers in town: Chalmers sells her fresh scapes through the Italian Centre Shop. They store well in the refrigerator and also freeze well.
Scapes can be used a number of different ways. Often they are treated very simply, either grilled or sauted, in order to highlight their mild, sweet, lightly garlicky flavour. They can also be pickled or served fresh, chopped and sprinkled like chives or green onions.
A trip to the ballet
Aside from their culinary use, Chalmers enjoys scapes’ aesthetic reward. “You know how if you’re lucky enough to be driving along and you see a field of sunflowers and it kind of takes your breath away?” she says. “When you see a field of scapes, you just feel like you’re at the ballet; it is just so beautiful.”
Recipe courtesy of Jackie Chalmers, New Oxley Garlic, Naturally!
2 scapes, finely chopped
200 grams feta cheese, crumbled
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Serve on crackers or as a vegetable or chip dip.