- Author: Leda McDaniel
The spring is a wonderful time to visit the farmers market. After a winter menu of hearty greens, storage potatoes, and winter squash, the tender shoots and leaves of the spring farm are a welcome sight! One of the interesting crops that you can find at the market this time of year is garlic. It is not the papery husked, mature storage garlic that you will find but rather this same plant in its immature stages. You will find spring garlic available in two forms: as an entire plant sold as “green garlic” and the flower stalks of hardneck garlic, called “garlic scapes.” Both of these green, tender garlic options lend a bright flavor and zest to spring cooking.
Garlic, Allium sativum, a native central Asia, comes in two distinct types: hardneck and softneck. As its name implies, hardneck garlic has a tough, central flower stalk that emerges in the springtime. To ensure that all of the plant's resources stay in the underground garlic cloves, farmers harvest these flower stalks, also known as scapes. They are tender, juicy and full of a mildly sweet garlic flavor. Often mistaken for green beans, the slender scapes curl as they grown and can loop into a complete circle. They can be sauteed in butter, thrown on the grill with a little olive oil and salt, or, a favorite of mine, used to make a springtime pesto!
The entire plant of both hardneck and softneck garlic can be harvested in the spring. The immature plant will look similar to a leek or large green onion. The bulb may be starting to swell as the cloves within begin to store carbohydrates but the individual garlic cloves will not yet have segmented. The entire plant, from top to bottom, can be used. Try them as a pizza topping, diced and sauteed, or as a delicious addition to a breakfast scramble.
After the springtime flush of green garlic and garlic scapes, storage garlic heads and cloves will be available in late summer. The plant must fully mature and begin to die before it is harvested, usually by the middle of July. Storage garlic is then cured- it is left to dry in a well-ventilated, dark location. A properly cured head of garlic will keep all through the winter, just long enough to flavor your dishes as you await the arrival of spring garlic!