Photo by Ric Ernst

I’ve been growing garlic for nearly 20 years, and for a number of those years, I had no idea the scapes – or “flower” heads – were good for anything but compost. In fact, at first I left them on and wondered how you could possibly peel and slice the tiny cloves each flowering scape had yielded.
It turns out, those tiny cloves were seed garlic – also known as bulbils — which apparently is one way to “purify” the strain you’re growing. Garlic doesn’t actually reproduce by seed, so there’s no cross pollination but over time, you might grow from bulbs that have certain characteristics – for example, large but fewer cloves, or multiple cloves within single skins – and you want to get back to the original. Apparently you can do that with the seed garlic, though it will take several years before you have a full-sized crop to harvest.

Incidentally, I recently read a wonderful book on garlic covering everything from its long history as a culinary staple to its current popularity as a home-garden specialty. It’s titled In Pursuit of Garlic; An Intimate Look at the Divinely Odorous Bulb (Greystone Books 2012) by Liz Primeau, a Canadian gardening guru who plants a wide variety of garlic wherever she finds space among the many perennials in her own garden.

Getting back to scapes, cutting them off once they start shooting up from the centre of your garlic plant will force the plant to concentrate on increasing the size of its “root”, or bulb. So if your aim is to maximize bulb production, start cutting now. I usually harvest mine when they’re 8-12 inches long.

The scapes themselves will keep in the fridge for up to three weeks if stored in plastic bags in which you’ve placed a few pieces of paper towel to absorb excess moisture. They’re delicious chopped into stir fries, omelets, soups or anywhere else you want a mild hit of garlic. Pickling them is another option.

The following recipe is from Georgia Morley, a Vancouver-based personal chef to high-profile stars and athletes who is also an enthusiastic home canner. She teaches at Well Seasoned when her busy schedule allows and offered this recipe at one of her canning classes there. It’s for green beans but it makes a very fine scape pickle too. If you’re an inexperienced canner, go online to any major canning supplies manufacturer and read up on proper canning methods before you start. No sense in unnecessarily killing the family with your canning kindness!
Here’s Georgia’s recipe. Note: you don’t need to use garlic in the brine when pickling scapes, though it won’t hurt if you do add some.

2 1/2 lbs. fresh green beans with tops and tail intact
2 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
2 cups water
1/4 cup salt
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 bunch fresh dill weed
3/4 tsp. smoked paprika – hot

Sterilize 6 (1/2 pint) jars with rings and lids and keep hot. Trim green beans to 1/4 inch shorter
than your jars.
In a large saucepan, stir together the vinegar, water and salt. Add garlic and bring to a rolling boil
over high heat. In each jar, place 1 sprig of dill and smoked paprika. Pack green beans into the
jars so they are standing on their ends.
Ladle the boiling brine into the jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of the tops. Discard garlic. Seal jars
with lids and rings. Place in a hot water bath so they are covered by 1 inch of water. Simmer but
do not boil for 10 minutes to process. Cool to room temperature. Test jars for a good seal by
pressing on the center of the lid. It should not move. Refrigerate any jars that do not seal properly.
Let pickles ferment for 2 to 3 weeks before eating.

YIELD – 6 -1/2 PINTS