Dateline: 1 July 2007
Updated: 10 April 2013
I am not a farmer in any sort of conventional sense but I do plant a small cash crop of stiffneck garlic each year. I harvest the bulbs, save some for seed to plant the following season, and process the rest into Herrick’s Homegrown Stiffneck Garlic Powder (An Organic Delight!) . I sell the garlic powder to garlic-loving folks all across the nation. It’s a nice little home business. I’ve even written a book about growing garlic and making garlic powder.
But this blog isn’t about garlic powder. It’s about another unique organic delight: Pickled Garlic Scapes. Pickled scapes are a rare culinary treat. You won’t find them in the grocery store. I have heard of a few garlic growers who sell pickled scapes, but they are few and far between. What, you may be wondering, are garlic scapes? I'm glad you asked.
One of the distinctive attributes of stiffneck garlic is that each plant puts forth a single flower stalk out of the center (the more commonly grown softneck garlic does not have a flower stalk). The stalk is called a scape. When the scape first emerges, it is curled. As time passes, the curl straightens out as high as five foot in the air before the flower head opens. Here’s a picture of my garlic plants taken a week ago. You can see the young, curled scapes.
The story of how to make pickled garlic scapes begins with how to plant garlic. Last year in October I blogged here about How I Plant My Garlic. I posted several photos, including this overview of the planted bed:
Now here is a picture of the same plot of garlic, taken last weekend (eight months after planting). You will note that there is a Whizbang Garden Cart in the distance. Of course, such a cart is absolutely necessary for growing good garlic! ;-)
This has been a very good year, so far, for growing garlic. The plants look better than they ever have. Weed control has not been any problem because I mulched heavily with oat straw after planting.
Stiffneck garlic growers want the bulbs they harvest to be as large as possible. With that in mind, we remove the scapes. Doing this is supposed to direct the plant’s energy from making a flower to making a larger bulb. When the scapes are young, as they are in the above picture, they are tender and can be pulled off the plant.
I Pull straight up on the scapes to remove them. Sometimes, the entire stalk will pull out of the center of the plant. More often, though, the scape will snap off cleanly, leaving six to eight inches of stem down inside the center part of the plant. Either outcome is okay. This next picture shows me pulling a scape, with a handful of already-pulled scapes in my other hand. Notice the flannel shirt? It was that cold here a week ago—a beautiful fall day in June.
If the scapes are not pulled off when they are young and tender, they will get tough and have to be cut with a knife. So it’s best to pull the scapes when they are young. And if you are making pickled scapes, you want the young, tender growth. Old, toughened scapes do not pickle well. Here’s a picture of a mess of just-picked scapes, ready to take into the house for pickling:
The bottom of each scape stem is the most tender part and it is also fairly straight—straight enough to cut a 4-1/2” section off. That’s how long you need to fit in a pint canning jar. If you are fortunate enough to pull the entire scape stem out of the center of the plant, you’ll end up with two or three straight sections for pickling. Otherwise, you will only get one. I cut the sections and pile them like cordwood in a bowl, as shown in this next picture. The upper part of the scapes go to the compost pile.
The recipe we use for making pickled scapes is the Dilly Beans recipe found in the Ball Blue Book. Marlene’s copy of this book is missing the cover, the pages are food-stained, and she has written notes all through. That gives you an idea of how much she uses the book.
Here is the Dilly Beans recipe:
2 pounds green beans
1/4 cup canning salt
2-1/2 cups vinegar
2-1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, divided
4 cloves garlic, divided
4 heads dill, divided
Trim ends off green beans. Combine salt, vinegar and water in a large saucepot. Bring to a boil. Pack beans lengthwise into hot jars, leaving 1/4” headspace. Add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 clove garlic, and 1 head dill to each pint. Ladle hot liquid over beans, leaving ¼” headspace Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process pints and quarts 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner. Yield: about four pints.
We modified the recipe a bit. For example, we left out the garlic cloves. And since our dill is not yet ready to use, we put a tsp of dill seed in each pint jar.
In all, we canned 14 pints of pickled scapes. As an experiment, we packed one quart jar with curly pieces from higher up the stem (the tougher end) to see how they would turn out. I also put in a couple of the flower pod ends. As I’m writing this, James opened the quart jar and we’ve been sampling the pieces. They’re good. So I guess we could have canned a lot more of the scapes than we did. The flower heads are, however, not tender and I would never try pickling them again. Here’s a picture of a ready-for-the-pantry pint jar of pickled garlic scapes :
Oh, there is something else you can do with garlic scapes. You can be silly with them…
I invite you to read my other garlic-related blog essays:
Home-Based Agrarian Enterprises & Garlic Powder Profits
Curing Garlic Bulbs
Selling My Garlic Powder At The Farmer’s Market