To a garlic lover, the more the better. But not all garlic is created equal. Garlic powder in a jar can’t compare with fat, white garlic cloves — whole, chopped or pressed. Better still are cloves from garlic bulbs just harvested. They’re pungent, but with a fresh, almost sweet flavor along with the heat. Could anything beat that? Maybe garlic scapes, the succulent flower stems that hardneck garlic sends up in midsummer, a feast in their own right. And then there’s green garlic.
A green garlic plant is simply a young one, harvested at scallion size. Just as with a scallion, the whole thing is edible, from the white bottom to the green top. Like scallions, these young shoots can be chopped and eaten raw, sprinkled over salads, omelets and baked potatoes. Sauteed, they’re sublime. Try caramelizing them in butter along with carrot strips, made with a vegetable peeler.
Normally when you plant garlic you just poke single cloves into the ground in fall, then harvest full-grown bulbs in summer when the foliage turns brown. Pulling the plants while small and green might seem wasteful, but there are ways to rob garlic’s cradle that will ease your mind. To perpetuate your harvest year to year, save some of your largest bulbs to use as seed garlic. Set aside some of your puniest ones for the fall sowing, harvesting them as green garlic the following spring.
Another way is to grow hardneck garlic and harvest the bulbils. Those are the little round cloves that form in the garlic flower on top of the scape. Normally the scapes, with their flower heads, are removed, either for the pleasure of eating them or to conserve the plants’ energy for bulb-making. Trials we’ve conducted show a 7 percent increase in bulb weight from scape removal, but leaving some scapes is a sacrifice worth making.
Garlic bulbils are round, like tiny onion sets, with a bit of root at the bottom and a pointed top. Bulbils of some varieties, such as the Porcelain types, are as small as grains of rice, but with some Rocambole types they’re as large as peas. They can be planted, just the way you would a garlic clove from a bulb, as an inexpensive way to increase your garlic stock. The first year’s crop will produce small bulbs; cloves planted from these will then mature the second year. But you won’t have to wait that long if you plant bulbils for green garlic. Dry them, cure them, then in fall just poke them into the ground, root down, an inch apart, with eight rows to a 30-inch bed.
Normally they would produce in spring. But this year we sowed some in their own little bed in our winter greenhouse. (A cold frame in a sheltered spot would work well, too.) Since early December we’ve had a steady supply of green garlic, and it continues to be fresh and tasty enough to please the pickiest garlic gourmand.
Damrosch's new book, "The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook," will be published in March.