The summer season brings a lively array of local produce to our area. This summer I'll be doing a weekly food blog in which I'll feature ways to use this local produce, explore the farmer's market and beyond, and spotlight the farmers and cooks who make the recipes possible.
The Middlebury farmer’s market on a Wednesday in June is a refreshing riot of color. After the cold and wet early spring comes growing grass, budding trees and, if we’ve been lucky, a little sun. But buds are rarely food — it takes longer for the fruits and vegetables we’ll eat later in the season to ripen. Even on the first sunny, warm days of May, the farmer’s market tables are still bare or filled with jars of preserves from last year’s harvest.
In June the tables begin to fill. Though the offerings are still sparing compared to what they will be later in the season, asparagus and rhubarb put in their brief appearances and lettuce, swiss chard, radishes, potatoes and snap peas are already in full swing. And for a teaser of the fruits that will come later on in the summer, Singing Cedars Farm, from Orwell, already has several quarts of strawberries for sale, as does South Hardscrabble Farm, from Bristol.
Spencer Blackwell, Elmer Farm
As I talk to Joan Cook, who owns South Hardscrabble Farm, a woman walks up to buy snap peas and sees my voice recorder. “I’m from New Jersey and I think the farmer’s markets are the best thing about moving (to Vermont),” she says to me with a nod.
Spencer Blackwell is running the table for his East Middlebury farm, Elmer Farm. The food at the farmer’s market, he says, “hasn’t traveled and absorbed the flavors of the box.” According to Blackwell, that means it is fresher than most food one would find at a supermarket, and the variety within the market allows customers to choose between vendors, selecting for freshness and quality.
Blackwell and his wife, Jennifer, have owned the farm for two years, and they also sell their produce to the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op and American Flatbread. Blackwell speaks highly of the food culture in the community.
“There’s a lot of support here,” he said. “It’s a good place to settle down.”
Today Blackwell is the only vendor selling garlic scapes. The stems are curled into a wooden box, tangled up in each other. These eclectic shoots are part of the garlic plant, and they have a very brief season—usually two or three weeks in early summer, near the end of June.
Garlic scapes nestle in their box
The young plants are curled tightly, but when they are allowed to grow, the stalks will straighten and flower. Instead, garlic growers clip the curled stem, forcing the plant to put its energy into developing the bulb.
The stem of a garlic scape is thick and somewhat woody, and at its top a small bulb sprouts into a slender shoot. When eaten raw the scape has a pleasing crunch. But be careful — even though the taste is more mild than eating a raw garlic clove, a good tooth-brushing might still be in order after munching on an uncooked scape.
These are early scapes, but their season is short. In another few weeks garlic bulbs will start arriving at the market. For now, though, garlic scapes nestle in boxes at the farmer’s market, ready to be eaten.
So the next time you are at the farmer’s market (Marbleworks, Wednesday and Saturday from 9-12:30), pick up some garlic scapes. A little experimentation with a pan and some oil will pay off — try frying them, or sauté a couple stalks of sliced scape to toss into any dish that calls for garlic. Or grill a couple at a low temperature until they are softer and caramelized, and eat them as a side dish.
Garlic Scape Pesto
Recipe courtesy Spencer Blackwell
Roughly 1 lb. garlic scapes
Roughly 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Optional: handful of pine nuts or walnuts
Chop scapes. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor, adding olive oil until the mixture is visibly oily, to a sauce consistency. Don’t overblend, though, because small pieces give the sauce a nice consistency.
Serve as sauce for pasta or meat, on sandwiches, as dip with crackers, or on any dish that needs some flavor.
Do you have good garlic scape recipes? How about great recipes using other local produce? Ideas for this blog? Leave a comment about it below!
Andrea does reporting and online media for the Addison Independent. You can find her on Twitter here or see other Table Talk entries here. Feel free to weigh in on this post or suggest future topics, either in the comments section below or at andreas [at] addisonindependent.com.