45,000 Garlic Scapes

And why Homeland Security cares.
Garlic scapes, those slim, bright-green, foot-long shoots with a pig-tail curl at the top that a new garlic bulb sends up in the Spring, are sensational on a charcoal grill—crispy, crunchy, flavor-packed. Pruning the delectable shoots allows the young garlic bulbs below to grow 30 percent larger. But their season is fleeting. There are only a few weeks to add their soft fledgling garlic freshness to sautéed greens or fresh marinara.

So what did Quail Hill Farm do with the 45,000 garlic scapes it harvested over two weeks in late May 2012? Why did a CSA, a community-supported agriculture farm, plant so much garlic seed (or cloves), 800 pounds of it, in the first place? And what did the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have to do with it?
The sheer volume of a 45,000 garlic scape harvest demands resourcefulness. None landed in the farm’s compost heap, the fate of some excess vegetables. It didn’t raise much cash, although the green shoots sell two or three for a dollar at some farm stands. The 250 families who are members of the Amagansett CSA lugged off sack after scape-ladened sack for instant gratification and larders. Scapes freeze well and add wonderful life to any number of mid-winter dishes. Frozen garlic scape pesto from Quail Hill has been a staple at its farmers market stands and shop for several years.
But would you believe pickled garlic scapes? Jeri Woodhouse of a Taste of the North Fork, who has been custom pickling beets, beans, cucumber and even pumpkin for the farm, turned 1,000 pounds of scapes into 250 quarts of pickles. There’s a slight resistance to the bite of a pickled scape and a subtle complexity of flavor compared to your average cucumber dill; it’s easy to find you’ve munched a full foot-plus length of pickled shoot.
Skeptical farm members at Quail Hill’s annual breakfast were seen hesitantly tasting samples, then buying quarts of both hot-pepper and dill garlic scapes. One of the most contented tasters was a 10-month-old boy in his father’s arms sucking one, clearly voting it comfort food.
Three years ago, Quail Hill’s bountiful garlic crop began dying just before harvest. Yanked from the earth, only shriveled husks remained where garlic bulbs had been growing earlier. The culprit was the microscopic bloat nematode, which had hitchhiked with seed from a Canadian grower all over the Northeastern U.S. and through a catalog into home gardens. Homeland Security began investigating since the infected plants crossed national borders. Unlike late blight—Phytophthora infestans—which plagues tomatoes and can travel 30 miles on the wind wiping out crops just before harvest, as it has here three of the past four years, bloat travels only when an infected plant is moved. Even worse, soil in which infected garlic seed grows remains infected. Now a serious dilemma faces growers: How do you know whether seed is infected with something you can’t see?
One solution, says Scott Chaskey, director of Quail Hill, is to track down seeds from farmers who have been growing their own in a closed cycle for years. Late last September, young farmers planted garlic cloves from 800 pounds of a trusted garlic purchase, and the cycle of garlic began with mild to intensifying flavor worth snatching at any stage. First came wild green garlic in April, then 45,000 scapes in late May, softly flavored garlic bulbs in June, and assertive cured garlic a few weeks later. Last fall the farm again planted 800 pounds of garlic—this time its own crop. Spring forecast: 45,000 scapes ahead. •

Geraldine Pluenneke writes from Montauk and blogs at thepowerofflavor.com.

Jeri Woodhouse, who prepares Quail Hill’s line of value-added products that you find in farmers markets—all manner of pickles including scapes and pesto—shares her recipe for garlic scape pesto with Edible East End readers. Both whole scapes and pesto freeze well and add wonderful life to any number of mid-winter dishes.

“Frozen pesto is one item that can be defrosted and refrozen without harm. I often freeze leftover pesto in ice cube trays and store in plastic bags in the freezer to use in sauces and soups later on,” Woodhouse says.

Use fresh-picked garlic scapes, breaking off the
tough bottom ends much like snapping off woody asparagus ends.
8 cups of garlic scapes cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cups olive oil
8 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
The following nuts and cheese are optional.
1 cup of pine nuts (or nuts of your choice, i.e.,
macadamia, almonds, walnuts)
2 cups of grated Parmesan cheese

Place the scapes and garlic cloves in a food processor with a little oil. Turn on the processor and slowly drizzle in the rest of the oil and salt and pepper to taste. When well mixed, add nuts, if using, and quickly process. Add cheese and quickly process in.

Pack in 8-ounce deli containers or containers of your choice. Pesto must be stored refrigerated or frozen. If refrigerated, the shelf life is one week.