Brine-pickled garlic scapes, a near-perfect example of waste-not, want-not thinking, makes excellent use of a seemingly obscure food – one cherished only by gardeners and only the most enthusiastic of farmers market goers: the humble garlic scape. The garlic scape, a long and serpentine stem that protrudes from garlic as it grows before opening into a pale, green-white flower bud is one of those rare delicacies you simply won’t find in a grocery store. In the spring and early summer, garlic growers cut down these shoots sending the plant’s energy that would spring upward toward the sky down into the bulb, fattening it like a goose fed on figs and nuts before landing on a lucky family’s Christmas table.
Like broccoli, nasturtiums and artichokes, garlic scapes number among a handful of plants that we eat consume in flower form. The stems, even when harvested young, can be brittle and tough and are best sautéed and used in place of cloves of garlic in various dishes, but the flowers themselves can be quite tender and are pleasantly garlicky when eaten fresh and raw. I like to ferment them, just as I do with so many vegetables, not only because I value the role that lactic acid fermentation plays in our cross-cultural culinary heritage as well as its critically important function in improving the nutrient profile of the foods we eat, but also because it’s an almost magical process: something fresh and fragile that could so easily putrefy and turn inedible is transformed through the action of beneficial microorganisms into something quite different. Those fresh foods are transformed into this state of extended, even nearly permanent, life, and that’s a beautiful thing.
In making these pickled garlic scapes, or any naturally fermented vegetable, you need so very little: a crock, some salt, a starter. After all, naturally preserved and fermented foods like these are peasant foods – borne of a way to extend the harvest from summer’s bounty well into the deep, dark and cold days of winter when nothing grows and cupboards are otherwise bare. In our quest for easy fixes, strictly formulaic and reliable results, we’ve forgotten the lost arts. We’ve given up the unpredictable excitement and slow process of brine pickling in favor of the stalwart reliability and nearly instantaneous process of vinegar pickling. I, for one, prefer my foods wild and unpredictable, strange and variable and undeniably traditional.
Incidentally, if you’re interested in getting started preserving vegetables at home through lactic acid fermentation, you might want to check out Get Cultured! – the online cooking class devoted to fermentation.
- Stir sea salt and starter culture or whey together with one quart fresh, filtered and dechlorinated water until the salt and starter culture are dissolved into the water completely.
- Pack your crock full of trimmed garlic scapes.
- Pour the mixture of water, salt and starter over the scapes, ensuring that they’re completely covered by the brine.
- Ferment at room temperature for at least a week, preferably two or even three or four (fermentation is not an exact science), until the scapes achieve a level of sourness that suits you.
- Once the scapes have pickled to your liking, remove them to the refrigerator or a cool cellar for storage.