For my next newspaper column (in a couple of weeks), I plan on writing about abundance–even in an early season northern garden–about how so much is ready for harvest, almost too much: plants bolting, plants trying to bolt, plants ready overnight, and how working within that abundance hour by hour opens up perspectives beyond mine of gardener/cook, to those of the plants, the full ecosystem of the garden, my local community, and the world.
Mid-June and I have already harvested and dried as much mint as my family and friends could possibly drink in tisanes and teas this winter; I’ve dried more than enough dill (way more than enough), and frozen dill pesto and mint pesto to feed everyone I know and have dried nearly enough chamomile for my plans for offering tisanes as part of the winter subscription series. And still the plants grow. The first crop of cilantro must be picked or let go to coriander. Mustard seed is close. I’ve got my eye on the favas. There are an awful lot of tomatillos ripening. And on it goes until the deep fall when things will finally quiet down except for the hardy crops snug within their tunnels.
During the harvesting I dream up recipes for the series, consider the insects buzzing around me and what they prefer, what they zoom by, feel the difference between this verdant corner of the world and the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the threats I heard in a recent Terry Gross “Fresh Air” interview with Josh Fox, the maker of Gasland, of the fracking process of extracting natural gas all over the country, but so close– in New York. (I can see New York from certain spots on the land–the Adirondack Peaks remind me that the state has suffered a good deal the effects of industrialization–acid rain poisoned its lakes, now gas drilling defiles its aquifers?) My thoughts veer from the delights in front of me to the staggering problems just beyond.
In that column I’ll touch on gleaning (a recent Middlebury grad has spurred a national movement) and the local “Grow an Extra Row” program on the one hand and letting things go to flower and seed for the birds and bees on the other, on succession planting and harvesting every last chamomile flower, one by one, even if my back gives out in the doing. I want to explore the tension between being the recipient of this bounty and feeling the ominous rumblings of a poisoned earth and the cries of a starving world.
But today it’s a bit more simple than all that. It’s the marvel of a plant–and all that it gives, beyond what we normally associate with it. Garlic. And I’m not talking about its powers against vampires or people offended by its pungency. I’m thinking about how with a good month yet before harvest, it is already gracing our table and filling our freezer–an abundance that had me deep in the garden in spite of the intermittent rain these past few days, and now has the kitchen infused with the bright scent of green garlic.
Scapes. Almost my favorite part of the plant. The curly flower stalk that does a 360 before straightening out and lifting its flower bud high above the plant. If left, it will produce a flower and seed, and take the gusto right out of the bulb, leaving you with a sorry head of garlic for all your efforts (i.e planting in late October in Vermont and weeding so carefully to keep its bulbliness happy though the growing season).
Of course, not every variety of garlic has a scape (and there are some 600 subvarieties of the pungent fellow). The hard-neck sort does–that’s what I grow–several kinds, red and white, large-cloved and small, gusty-tasting and mellow. Even the scapes vary in performance–some curl a bit, some do routines that remind me of my brother’s old boyhood electric racing set. I harvest them to use as I would green garlic (the fresh picked bulb versus dried), minced in salad dressings, in sautés–wherever I would use garlic. But I also try to capture its fresh bite for release on particularly cold and gloomy winter days when I long for spring.
Pesto, as I wrote last post, is not meant for basil alone. Mint, cilantro, parsley–whatever of the Mediterranean herbs you have bursting from your garden or farmers’ market, you can put up as pesto to chase away the winter doldrums. Garlic scapes, too! I mentioned on Twitter that I was whipping up a batch, and Nancy White asked if I was planning to blog the recipe. So here it is, a simple bit of early summer to savor tonight or to take with you into the winter, a way of letting nothing go to waste, and of remaining balanced and joyful in troubling times:
Garlic Pesto (It doesn’t get much easier than this)
A bundle of scapes (I used 24 for the following batch). The important thing here is the freshness and youth of the scapes. Pick them before they straighten out into true flower heads. If you’re buying them, make sure they are tender–easily pierced by a finger nail and pliable. The older they get, the tougher, woodier and sharper in taste– you don’t want your guests to be picking garlic splinters from their teeth!
That’s all you need if you’re going to freeze it. If you’re going to serve it up or when you thaw it to use, you can then mix in some sea salt, freshly ground Parmesan and pine nuts to taste, just as you would a basil pesto. Or you can use the scape paste not as the central focus but to spice up whatever else you are cooking. I like to add a spoonful into any onion-y dish I am sautéing, into soups, into concoctions destined to be roasted, over baby potatoes just in from the garden (that’s what we had last night-yum!).
1. Chop off the flower end and cut the scapes into 1/2 inch lengths. Measure out about 1/4 cup of olive oil for every cup of chopped scapes.
2. Use a food processor to mince the scapes as finely as possible.
3.With the motor running add the oil in a steady stream into the feed tube and pulse until the pesto is creamy. (Add more oil if needed to get the right consistency).
4. Spoon into ice cube trays, pop into plastic freezer bags and freeze overnight.
Place into jars and use as needed, all winter long, and by all means have some tonight!