I love farmers. I love farmers markets. I consider myself one of the most hardline, staunch advocates of local, sustainable food that I know, either online or in person, but I can not get behind the pricing on garlic scapes, green strawberries and tomatoes, and the like. Garlic scapes are like the bones that come with your chicken. If you buy chicken with the bones still with them, and you should, they can be used for good, but I would not pay for chicken bones. I would certainly not pay more for chicken bones than I would for chicken, which is the case that I have run into for both scapes and green strawberries recently as compared to their edible and ripe counterparts.
My stance on scapes drew the ire of those more generous than me with responses like selling scapes allows the farmer to get by or that if you grind the scape into pesto, it can be good. Neither scream, “I am as or more valuable than actual garlic.” I am of the mind that the texture of garlic scapes moves them from something I would want to eat to something pretty that would impress people looking for interesting looking foodstuffs. They are beautiful, as you can see from the single bundle purchased this year for a dollar at the Dane County Farmer’s Market ($3 less than at Green City), but resemble a tree branch, texture-wise.
I figured that I’d use them three different ways. I wanted to skip pesto because, by goodness, I would simply use garlic if I wanted to do that and it really is not about the scape that way either, but rather the basil. The first way that I figured to try it was to pickle it. I have been experimenting with different additions to pickles to give sweetness without adding sugar, honey, or other sweeteners to the brine and one idea that I had was using carrots which are used to sweeten sauces. I added carrots and star anise to a very basic pickle brine, then removed the sugar. The resulting pickle had a mellow sweetness from the carrot which was accented by the star anise. The quality of the scape that I truly dislike, the woody texture, was muted a little by boiling the scapes in their brine before cooling. Admittedly, this was an improvement over grilled scapes, but the texture was still not something that I wanted to eat straight from the jar.
Next, after reading Chris Cosentino’s book (and talking to him subsequently), one of the recipes that stood out was the foie, corn, and onion charcoal. I have always wondered why burned onion appealed so much, but mature garlic cooked anything past golden killed every dish that it touched. I thought that perhaps using a young scape would bridge the gap between onion and garlic, so I had a go at it.≈
Instead of testing my exhaust fan and smoke alarm by burning the scapes in my oven, I took the test outside and burned the scapes on the grill. Losing only a few to spontaneous combustion, I ended up with about 4 scapes burned to a crisp. These scapes were crumbled into a blender.
As the blender whirled, I added oil until the mixture resembled grocery store French dressing in texture. It was jet black and really intriguing. The taste was a combination of how burned corn husk smells and a delicate, sweet garlic flavor. Since the scapes were charred and blended, the textural issue was no longer there.
The final use of the scapes came from a reader who suggested burning them and using the smoke to infuse flavor. Again, I was concerned about the “burned garlic” aspect of the smoke ruining the dish, so I took things a little further. I dried the scapes for nearly a month by hanging them in the pantry. They did not completely dry, but came very close.
Once they had reached a sufficiently dry state, I broke them into a bowl and used them to smoke pork loin using a tea smoking theory, but replacing tea with dried garlic scapes. Again, we are not even eating the scapes here, but rather imbuing the pork with the scent of garlic. This was actually my favorite use of the scape. The scent never reached burning, but rather teetered on the hot end of a roasted garlic scent that went deep into the pork giving it a rich savory quality that the lean loin often lacks.
The lede picture is a combination of all three uses. The paint sits at the bottom of the plate applied with a sauce brush (perhaps too precious) topped with a salad of apricots, green olives, and pickled scapes. The apricots and olives have great offsetting qualities that go really well with pork. Finally, the scape smoked pork loin is the final element to the plate.
I realize after taking this on that I still do not care so much for garlic scapes that I would pay anything more that change for them. I pickled some and burned the rest, some for smell and others for flavor. My favorites were the ones burned. That tells me something. That being said those two applications were interesting additions to a dish that was vastly improved by those additions.
Garlic Scape Charcoal
Adapted from Chris Cosentino’s ideal for Onion Charcoal
- 4 garlic scapes
- Olive Oil
Pickled Garlic Scapes
- 4 scapes
- 3/4 cup white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pickling spice
- 2 star anise
- 2 tablespoons sliced carrot
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 morita chili
Step one: Combine all ingredients except the scapes. Bring to a boil. Add scapes, boil for 1 minute and remove from heat. Let cool.
Step two: Pour into a jar and refrigerate.