Garlic scapes are like an early birthday present or a two-for-one special. In early summer, garlic bulbs send up a pencil-thin, wildly curly stalk, which if left to go to seed, would produce more garlic next year. "Going to seed" means the garlic bulb actually stops developing, so it’s necessary to trim the scapes to encourage garlic bulb production. And it just so happens that the scape is absolutely delicious, so much so that it’s highly coveted by many market-goers and food bloggers (Google it and you’ll see!). Scapes now equal cloves later: two-for-one!
While garlic originated in Asia as a wild plant (first referenced in China 510 BCE), it was also widely cultivated and consumed by many European civilizations. Garlic is mentioned in the Bible and the Talmud; Hippocrates, Galen, Pliny the Elder, and Dioscoride all wrote about garlic and its many medicinal uses. The term scape is said to originate from the Greeks, who called this variety "snake" because of the coiling of the scape. Garlic scapes are only produced by hardneck varieties such as Ukrainian, Tibetan, Korean, Russian, Persian, Italian, Salt Spring, Chinese, and Israeli garlic. (Check out The Cutting Veg for their collection of Global Garlic; you can order cloves to plant this fall!)
With a mellow garlic flavour and a tender asparagus-like crispness, scapes are like a vegetable and aromatic, all in one. They are at once spicy and clean, fresh and mellow, and are perfectly edible raw or cooked. Like garlic, scapes will sweeten when cooked, so try them tossed in some olive oil and grilled for a couple minutes, no more.