Garlic delicious in all its stages

May. 11, 2013 @ 10:12 AM

At the farmers’ market, garlic is available almost all year round, but not always in the same form. Right now, local farmers markets are full of “green garlic” which is garlic in its immature form.

Garlic takes a long time to get to the mature garlic bulb that we are most familiar with seeing at the market in the fall or in the grocery store year-round. It takes about nine months to grow from clove to bulb. In the fall, farmers take garlic bulbs that they have saved or purchased and break them up into single cloves. The cloves are planted directly into the fields, mulched and start the long journey back to mature garlic bulbs. After a few weeks, green sprouts will start to emerge from the planted cloves. Then, starting in the spring after a few months of growing, the plant looks a lot like a leek or an onion scallion. By the early summer, the plants are starting to mature and the grow stalks or scapes that produce tiny garlic bulbils.  Finally, about a month later, the full garlic bulbs are ready to be harvested.

The amazing thing about garlic is that it is edible and delicious in all of its stages of development. Through the rest of the year, garlic will be at to farmers’ markets in the following forms:

-- Green garlic (March-May) – These are the immature garlic plants that look like a leek or scallion. As the garlic starts to mature, you can detect tiny cloves starting to form. Green garlic has a mild garlicky flavor

-- Garlic scapes (late May-June) – These are the curly, light green garlic stalks that some types of garlic produce. The scapes are tender and edible at a certain point in the plant’s development. Many farmers harvest them so that the plants put all of their energy into growing the bulb instead of producing bulbils (which will eventually grow another plant). Like green garlic, the flavor is garlicky but mild.

-- Fresh garlic (June-mid-July) – This is the mature garlic bulb with multiple cloves that is freshly dug. At this point, the skin is moist, similar to layers of an onion. When the garlic is very fresh, the flavor hasn’t quite reached the peak of intensity or strength. 

-- Cured garlic (August to Winter) – Mature garlic bulb with multiple cloves that has been cured or dried for longterm storage. At this stage, the garlic skin is papery and fairly easy to peel off the clove. Once cured, the flavor is very strong because all of the plants energy has gone into the cloves.

So, the question I’m often asked is, “How do you use green garlic or garlic scapes?”. My answer, use it in a similar way to how you use mature garlic. Because the flavor isn’t as intense, you may want to use more.

Erin Kauffman is market manager of the Durham Farmers' Market.