Thursday, July 2, 2015

Three Degrees, No Garlic Scapes

In three agriculture degrees, several botany classes, and decades as a plant ecologist, I never ran into garlic scapes. I know and use terms such as “homoploid hybrid species” and “Pseudotsuga menziesii.” But, until last Saturday, I’d never met a garlic scape.

Jessica and Jeremy of Swift River Farm introduced me to the curvy, green flower shoots at their booth at the Lemhi County Farmers Market in Salmon, Idaho. The couple, who also sell subscription shares in their farm’s produce, spun an improbable tale of sex and scapes.

Long before humans began sautéing cloves or warding off vampires with the heads, garlic dispensed with seed. The plants gave up sex. Each of these Shakers of the plant world eschewed others of its kind and simply produced garlic heads that grew into plants that produced garlic heads.

Jeremy and Jessica embrace garlic’s celibacy and plant individual cloves, which grow into plants that produce full heads. Each plant is genetically identical to its single parent, which is identical to its single parent, and so on back through time.

Oddly, some kinds of garlic still produce flowers, as if trying to blend in with the rest of the plant world. While other plants produce flowers with male and female parts that swap genes with the opposite flower parts to form seeds, garlic flowers form bulbils. Bulbils look like tiny cloves and grow into plants identical to their parent.

The scapes I discovered at the market are garlic flower stalks with developing bulbils. I cut open one of the largest developing flower clusters.


I’ve also learned there are two kinds of garlic: soft neck and hard neck. The garlic in grocery stores is the former, as it stores well enough to keep the produce bins stocked all year. I might be excused my garlic-scape ignorance, as they are only produced by hard neck garlic. These types are grown in cooler climates and usually consumed locally, as they don’t store well.

My new friends, the garlic scapes, gave me the perfect excuse to skip my usual toast-and-yogurt breakfast and linger over an omelet-and-garlic-scape-potato Sunday brunch.

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