The Condiment Series: A Nod To Pickles

I just discovered a twisted little secret in my garden. Garlic scapes. Very unusual for California since we see only softneck varieties in the stores, scapes look a little strange to us. As a matter of fact, the hubby and I have never heard of them most of our adult lives. So when I bought a bunch of hardneck garlic to plant last year, I was on the fence about whether to replant; especially if hardneck doesn’t sell. Then I saw them. Crazy, twisted-sister-looking flower heads that have been elected the elite class of the onion family. Gorgeous. The taste? A cross between garlic and onion but still has a whole new flavor that I guarantee you’ve never tasted before. Exquisite. The scent? Well let’s just say that when I saute them, the smell actually lures the hubby away from his TV (even if he’s watching American Pickers) which is quite a feat for such a small appendage.

can't escape

The onion family puts on a great farewell show. From garlic to leeks to onions, they send out a long stalk with a flower on the end, signifying that it’s reaching the end of the road. On hardneck garlic varieties, the stalk comes up through the middle of the garlic head and is hard like a twig. Softneck garlic is bred to avoid this, but will flower on occasion… it’s only natural.

trying to talk it's way out

Scape is the name of the flower a hardneck garlic puts out. It will begin to curl and depending on the variety you grow, the best time to harvest is anywhere between a U-shape/half-curl to 1 1/2 curls/coils. I am growing Georgian Crystal and Polish hardneck varieties, and each is deliciously tender even at 1 1/2 curls. But the actual flower is tender only when harvested small. I cut it off before using it if the scape is larger… it’s usually too hard at this point. I think it’s worth losing the flower because you get more to enjoy in the end.

snip snip!

Cut it right above the first set of leaves. According to Mother Earth News, the best time to do this is during the hot part of the day. Do it when it’s too early/cool and the cut you make can cause the plant to lose a lot of sap.

piles o' goodness

These curvy cuties can sit around for a while but not nearly as long as onions and garlic. And refrigeration might help but that hasn’t been necessary in my house… even with over 300 garlic plants, we still managed to use them all up! The last big harvest was so big, I decided to do a bit of pickling.

nice and steady now...

Wash the scapes, cut the flower heads off and cut them into 2-3 inch pieces. If they’re very young and the flowers are tender, then by all means use the entire thing.

Wash and sterilize your jars and lids. Pack the scapes into the jars and pour in your hot pickling solution of choice (recipes follow). Leave 1/2 inch head space. Process for 10 minutes (pint jars) 15 minutes (pint and a half jars; used here) or 20 minutes (quart jars) in a water bath canner. Keep for up to a year. See the main canning page for detailed instructions.

sweet scape

The first batch was on the sweeter side with a pickling spice mix I bought from Penzey’s. This is a very good blend of spices; it can pretty much go with anything and is great for when I’m in a hurry.

Sweet and Spicy Pickled Scapes

Enough scapes for 3 pint sized canning jars
4 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups white vinegar*
3 teaspoons canning salt
2 teaspoons sugar
3-6 teaspoons Penzey’s pickling spice mix

Bring to a simmer and cook for a minute or so until the salt and sugar dissolve. You can add the spice mix to the jars directly, or cook it with the water/vinegar solution like I did. I think by doing this you get better flavor… just my opinion. I used this recipe for half the scapes that day and used the rest with this one:

now thatsa pickle

Dee Dee’s Perky Dill Pickles

Enough scapes for 3 pint sized canning jars
4 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups white vinegar*
3 teaspoons canning salt
2 tablespoons peppercorns
2 tablespoons dill seed
2 tablespoons celery seed

The hubby doesn’t like anything but dill pickles so I did a dill/peppery mix just for him. Again, bring it to a simmer and cook until the salt fully dissolves, and either add the seasonings directly to the jar or cook them along with the solution. With other veggies, I like to add whole cloves of garlic, but we’re doing scapes so wouldn’t that be overkill? Hmm. I also like to add sprigs of fresh dill but I don’t have it right now. (Using dill seed means I can still call them dill pickles, right? Oh well.) And I probably should have included mustard seed in the mix but I wasn’t thinking about it! Golly! But you know that anything goes really, it’s just a matter of personal taste. And it’s still delicious in the end.

escape to paradise!

Yummy! Can’t wait. Aw, but I have to. I wait at least a month for other pickles, and so I’ll do the same for the scapes. Oh boy, that’ll be hard. Wouldn’t these be great in potato salad? Or seafood salad? Or with salmon? Holy macaroni. Macaroni! Macaroni salad too! Hey, did you know that staring at the jars every chance you get, salivating and doing a dance could possibly help speed things up? Yep.

*Tip: If using cider vinegar, change the water and vinegar measurements to equal parts.

More pickling recipes