10 June 2013

Garlic scapes: Lipstick on a pig food

I'm being taken to task on Facebook for not declaring garlic scapes the manna of the late spring CSA box.

What's a garlic scape? It's the non-leaf stalk that grows out of a garlic bulb where, at its tip, sit the plant's maturing seeds. Farmers cut or pinch this stalk off so that the garlic plant puts its energy into growing a large bulb rather than propagating itself, which is what it wants to do. If the scape is left intact and allowed to flower and seed, the garlic that the farmer sells at the end of the season will be smaller and command a lower price. The economics are very clear for the farmer to make her garlic produce income two ways. First, harvest the scapes, which would cost money if left on the plant, and sell them; then reap the benefits later when the garlic bulbs come in fat and heavy.

I don't want to call farmers market and CSA patrons naive, but I think that some people see a touch of the exotic and rare in garlic scapes. In reality, they're merely an agricultural by-product. They can't be given to the dairy animals because they'll give an off-flavor to milk, cheese, and butter. But why toss them to the pigs if they cost nothing at all to produce outside of the labor to "harvest" and ship, and you can sell them at $4.00 per handful to city folk? Or toss them into the CSA share as something equal to a bunch of radishes, a pint of strawberries, or a head of Boston bibb lettuce?

For my CSA dollar I'd rather see young summer squash -- which I know has come in, because it's been at the farmers market for two weekends now -- than see pig food in the box. Instead, I'm left with stalks that are serviceable as an aromatic in a stir-fry, add a mild garlic flavor as a pizza topping, and are less convenient to handle than chives. I never buy them at the farmers market, but here's what we did with them this week, in the grand tradition of a farmers market producer we knew of in Seattle who would reply regarding any item one asked how to use, "Oh, it works great in a stir-fry":

CSA Garlic Scape Stir-Fry


  • 3 tablespoons high-temperature frying oil
  • 4 or 5 garlic scapes
  • 1 small head broccoli
  • 2 cups snow peas
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • soy sauce to taste
  • brown or white rice, cooked


    Prepare all vegetables before heating the skillet or wok. Trim the garlic scapes and cut into 1- to 2-inch lengths. Cut the flowerets off the broccoli and slice into bite-size pieces. Peel the broccoli stalk and chop into 1-inch pieces. Trim the stem and blossom ends off the snow peas; leave them whole.

    In a heavy skillet or wok, heat the oil to shimmering over a medium-high flame. Add the garlic scapes and faire sauter until coated. Cover loosely with a lid and let soften a few minutes. Add the broccoli, sauté again, and let cook a few minutes, loosely covered. Repeat with the snow peas.

    When the vegetables are tender but not mushy, add black pepper and 2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce. Heat through and serve over rice.

    Options: (1) Add finely chopped fresh ginger with the garlic scapes. (2) Thicken the sauce: combine 1 tbsp cornstarch, 2 tbsp soy sauce, and 1/4 cup water or broth in a cup; add the sauce at the end of cooking and heat until thickened. (3) Add sesame oil and serve cold, tossed with spaghetti or udon noodles.
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