Lacto-fermented Garlic Scape

Image CSA Harvest The first major crop of the season, which goes straight from the garden into our Pickl-It, is one of my favorites – the fragrant and spicy garlic scape.

It was the most surprising “new”, unfamiliar food – the flower stalk of hardneck garlic, harvested from the plant before the yellow (edible!) bloom opens – showing up in the harvest-bins at our CSA during our first year of membership.

Standing and puzzling over its odd curly-shape, and tightly-closed flower, I found I wasn’t alone. “Perhaps”, another inquisitive CSA-member speculated, “its intended use is meant for a floral arrangement.”

The garlic scape serves as the stem from which the seed head of the garlic bulb is formed. As the bulb begins to grow and mature, garlic stalks also begin to lengthen. During the growth period, the garlic scape begins to curve. Contained within the garlic scape is a great deal of flavor, although the stalk never does reach the level of the pungent garlic bulb itself. Initially, the garlic scape is relatively tender, making it ideal for use as an ingredient in several dishes.” Wise Geek

Fortunately for us, an amused CSA farmer explained that garlic scape are high in Vitamin C and calcium, along with being extremely versatile:

  • Stand-alone vegetable sautéed-in-butter,
  • Finely diced, added to soups and stews,
  • Blanched, pureed, added to vinegar, oil or cream,
  • Substitute for garlic in pesto

The important description from the Wise Geek excerpt is: “Initially, the garlic scape is relatively tender”. If you or your farmer wait too long, all you’ll end up with is a stem as woody and difficult to eat as any tree. But catch it at the perfect moment-in time? Tender. Juicy. Flavorful.

I had to wonder, how many times in my life I’d passed by garlic scape at a farmer’s markets, or Whole Paycheck, never knowing what I was missing. It was one of those things, that when I finally saw and comprehend what I was looking at, it popped up everywhere – on television cooking shows, in magazines and food blogs.

Image Scape Flower We even went away from a long weekend, eating our way across one segment of the “Vermont Cheese Trail, and there it was – garlic scape! – showcased in a small cheese shop. They’d lightly folded the finely-minced scape into a lovely mound of fresh goat cheese, topped with a chiffonade of the scape’s flower.

That was the deciding moment when my husband and I said, “Pick-It! We have to ferment our own scape!” A simple 3.6% brine, 1-1/2-liter Pick-It, one a handful of scape fronds cut into 2-inch pieces, and a week later?

Putting our best knife-skills to use, we finely-minced our own pickled scape, adding it to an assortment of food. And unlike the gourmet store’s dead-nutrient distilled-vinegar preserved scape, our Pick-It scape had a “clean” flavor. Naturally-preserved with lactic acid, Pickl-It scape lasts, refrigerated, from harvest-to-harvest, without suffering flavor or texture loss due to oxygen exposure.

Garlic Flower

The tightly-closed flower on the end of the scape isn’t a “flower”, but instead a miniature garlic clove – a bubils – that leaches energy from the plant. When it appears, just like other plants such as chives, it signals “bolting”. No matter its name – “bubils” (keep that one handy for Scrabble) or “flower” – it is delicious served pickled, gently sauteed in butter, or raw. When raw, a chiffonade cut exposes more flavor, adding a gentle zest to salads, or tossed on a simple soufflé.

When pickling the “flower”, which should be lacto-fermented along with the fronds, the flower should be eaten within a few weeks. Their more delicate texture breaks down more quickly in the lactic-acid brine.

Last but not least, the scape brine is loaded with flavor, useful for splashing on finishing touches to eggs, salads, bean dips, soups or stews.

While 6-ounces of the commercially-produced pickled scape retailed for $9, raw garlic scape – about a dozen flower stalks – usually sell for around $2 at local farmer’s markets. Cut into 2-inch pieces, that’s enough to fill a 1 1/2-liter Pickl-It – more or less the equivalent of 8 or 9 jars of the ready-made!

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Image Garlic Scape Pickl-It Lacto-fermented Garlic Scape Recipe

  • 2% brine formula = 8 cups filtered, non-chlorine, non-fluoride water plus 38 grams salt
  • 18-36 garlic scape fronds/flower stalks
  1. Mix the salt into the water, stir well; set aside
  2. Make sure the “flower” is tightly-sealed if you intend to “pickle” it
  3. Give fronds/stalks a quick rinse, cutting off woody, fibrous bottom (if any); in general, fronds/stalks should be thin and easily pierced with a knife tip
  4. Cut fronds/stalks into 2-inch segments
  5. Leave about 1 to 2-inches of the stalk on the “flower”
  6. Place all scape frond/stalk segments and flowers in the Pick-It
  7. Cover scape with brine; garlic scape and brine should not extend above the Pick-It “shoulder”; place Dunk’R on top to hold scape under brine
  8. Latch the Pick-It cover; place 1 1/2-tablespoons water in the airlock, and leave the Pickl-It at room temperature, in a dark corner on your kitchen counter. Wrap a towel around the Pickl-It jar, but do not cover the airlock.
  9. Check the brine flavor after 3 days (5 days if temperatures are under 68F); there should be a pleasant light-sour garlic taste. If you desire a stronger flavor, leave on the counter for another 2-3 days. When complete, store in the refrigerator, or in a root cellar that does not exceed 55F.