Think of them as garlic greens. Whimsical and wild-looking, the tender stalks of hardneck garlic grow straight from the bulb, then coil into lovely, long curlicues topped with fanciful flower heads.
Their young cousins, scallions, or green onions, grow tubular and pencil-thin, shooting directly from bulbs that never fully develop.
Both of these oft-overlooked crops signify the spring harvest season. And, while they are milder than their counterparts—mature garlic bulbs and spring and other onions and alliums—they still pack a punch, offering a hint of what’s to come in the garden.
“They both have that muted flavor,” says Anna Kestell, food preservation and safety outreach educator at Washington State University Extension for Spokane County. “You’re going to get that really beautiful garlic or onion flavor without the bite.”
Hardneck or stiffneck garlic (Allium sativum ophioscorodon) is planted in autumn and enjoys two harvests: one for scapes and another for bulbs. Cutting scapes is a must. If they aren’t trimmed, plants spend their energy trying to grow the stems and flowers, leaving bulbs underdeveloped in both size and taste.
Green, garlicky, and gently vegetal, scapes aren’t as pungent as mature bulbs. Their flavor is more delicate and herbaceous, reminiscent of a combination of both garlic and green onion. Backyard gardeners and farmers’ market regulars know not to let them go to waste.
Low in calories, rich in B vitamins along with vitamins K and C, and high in flavor—but not overwhelmingly so—scapes are great grilled, sautéed, and puréed into soups and sauces. Add them to pasta and pizza. Put them in frittatas and quiches, complemented with Cougar Gold.
Kestell pickles scapes, often mixing them into her giardiniera. Another favorite at her house: Cougar Gold mac and cheese with scapes.
Scapes can become tough and fibrous near the end that grows from the bulb. It’s best to trim that part. That, and their relatively short harvest, might be the only drawbacks to this late-spring offering, says Janis McBride of Camas, a master gardener with WSU Clark County Extension since 2017. She’s been growing garlic and scapes for six years.
She tends garlic both in her home garden and at Hazel Dell’s 79-acre 78th Street Heritage Farm, where she volunteers to help grow food for a local food bank. Music is her favorite variety.
“The hardnecks”—including Music—“grow best in the Pacific Northwest,” she says. “And they just have a good, solid garlic flavor.”
White-skinned with a pink blush, Music yields large, easy-to-peel, medium-hot cloves. It’s a Porcelain-type garlic, a hardy hardneck that’s particularly cold tolerant. Bulbs will keep long after harvest—nine months to a year.
McBride grows Music at home. At the farm, she tends Romanian Red, Inchelium Red, Nootka Rose, and Shandong. They’re planted in a 75-foot row, yielding “probably 300 to 400 heads of garlic” and as many scapes.
“I think garlic is the easiest crop to grow,” says McBride, who recommends novice gardeners start with garlic. “It’s a long growing season, but you don’t have to do that much, just keep the bed weed-free. It’s almost fool-proof.”
Start with seed garlic the first season. “After that, take your largest cloves and plant those. You’ll get a little shoot within a month, and it stays that way for many months. It feels like it’s not even growing. Then come March or so, when it’s warmer, it really starts growing. When the scape curls over, you know it’s ready to cut.”
McBride processes scapes into pesto for pasta or crostini, and tosses them into stir-fries. “They’re really good in sesame oil with salt and black pepper,” she says.
Scallions (Allium fistulosum), rich in just a gentle zing.
Mix them into mashed potatoes or make scallion pancakes. A staple of Chinese cooking, scallion pancakes are easy and fun to make, not to mention delicious. Scallions are also great with smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel or in an omelet.
“For me, egg dishes are where they shine,” Kestell says. “I also love them in mac and cheese. I’ll use them in tacos. They’re great in baked potato soup and stir-fries. They’re also great in any salad because they won’t overwhelm the salad.”
One of her favorite springtime salads is strawberries and spinach with chopped scallions and vinaigrette. The scallions and dressing “balance out the sweetness of the strawberries,” says Kestell, who also adds scallions to biscuits and breads as well as sandwiches “for a little bit of extra flavor. They also go well in salsa if you don’t like a real strong oniony flavor.”
Kestell dries them in her food dehydrator so she can “use them all the time. I’ve always got some on the shelf, even in the middle of winter.”
Garlic Scape Pesto
1 cup garlic scapes, sliced crosswise (about 10 to 12 scapes)
¼ cup raw sunflower seeds
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup basil leaves
Juice of one lemon
Place the garlic scapes in a food processor and pulse for
30 seconds. Add the sunflower seeds and pulse for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the olive oil and process on high for 15 seconds. Add the Parmesan cheese and pulse until the ingredients are combined. Add the basil and lemon juice, and process until reaching the desired consistency. Add salt to taste and serve immediately.
Read (and cook) more
Add a little garlicky or oniony zing to late-spring dishes with scapes or scallions. Here’s a round-up of recipes and more information about these flavorful but often underutilized ingredients.
A quick garlic primer (Mother Earth News)
What are garlic scapes? Grow your own. (The Spruce)
How to cook garlic scapes (Better Homes and Gardens)
Regrow your own (Food 52)
Green onions v. scallions (Tasting Table)
Green onions v. scallions, part two (Food and Wine)
Use every part (Better Homes and Gardens)
Scallion pancakes (Spokesman-Review)
This two-ingredient Southern side skillet dish needs no salt. (Food 52)