No, not snakes on a plane. Scapes on a train—or more specifically, garlic stalks stir-fried with pork and oyster sauce in the dining car of a Chinese train bound for Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. In this week’s Food Section, globetrotting food critic Ari LeVaux talks about the pulse-quickening moment he first encountered garlic flowers and stalks—collectively called scapes. Scapes are in season right now, and preparing them at home is inexpensive and easy. (Unlike some of the other international train rides Ari has taken.)
The first time I ate garlic flowers was for breakfast on a train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The dining car didn't have a menu: You just sat down and they brought you food. A server delivered a plate of stir-fried chopped green things with pork and oyster sauce, along with a bowl of rice. It was years before that I realized that the pencil-thick green things were pieces of garlic flowers and flower stalks, collectively known as scapes.
Searching for the best crops to plant with garlic, Ari LeVaux developed a technique called "tossing seeds randomly." He put all the seeds he didn't get around to planting last year into a jar, shook it up and threw them by handfuls. This experiment produced the "garlic patch friends" and a springtime strategy for maximum yields.
I want to plant garlic this fall. What kind should I plant, and how should I plant it?
A: This is a great time to think about planting garlic. Since it usually happens in October to early November, now's when you want to acquire seed garlic and figure out where to grow it.
You have two basic options for getting your hands on some seed: You can order it or you can just go out and buy garlic and plant it. There really isn't a difference between seed garlic and non-seed garlic--except that with seed garlic, you know exactly which variety you're getting. And if you buy garlic at the farmers' market, the farmer might be able to tell you what kind it is; then there’s really no difference. Even if the farmer doesn't know, you can at least rest assured that whatever variety it is, it will do well in your climate, as the farmer surely grew it locally. Pick out the biggest, burliest, healthiest looking bulbs you can.