It's been years since I raised garlic, but couldn't pass on the big bulbs of seed garlic available during last fall's Farm Crawl visit to Coyote Run Farm near Lacona. These came home, were divided into cloves almost immediately, planted and spent the winter under a blanket of grass clippings. The result is a small but healthy bed that I'll harvest later this year.
But the first harvest came over the weekend when I broke the scapes off the now thigh-high plants and brought them inside to eat. Scapes are the flower shoots sent out by hardneck garlic plants this time of year, although garlic really doesn't bloom in a conventional way. The scapes curl and with the small head intact look a little like snakes --- the reason why these varieties are sometimes known as "snake garlic."
There are two schools of thought about scapes. Some argue garlic bulbs are hardier and store better if the scapes are allowed to develop fully. Most, however, cut or break the scapes off. Energy that would be invested by the plants in producing scapes then goes instead to the bulbs, which grow larger.
It's best to harvest the scapes early in their development, when they're tender with a mild garlic flavor. The longer they grow, the tougher and "hotter" they become. Picked early they're great in salads or used in other ways green onions might be used.
There are many recipes involving scapes --- pesto, casseroles, soups, pickled, etc. But I'm a lazy cook so generally just wash, remove the ends (and the head), cut into two-inch-or-so lengths and saute in butter until tender and a little brown. Wonderful.
You sometimes can buy scapes during their very brief season at farmers markets and I noticed that Jill up at Blue Gate Farm near Columbia planned to have scapes Saturday at the downtown Des Moines Farmers Market. But the season doesn't last long --- so hurry.