Brine pickled garlic scapes dry-packed (left); in their own cloudy, probiotic brine (center); and in a 4-to-1 solution of apple cider vinegar and water (right)
Back when the garlic scapes were coming in hot and heavy, I wrote about what to do with savory, serpentine scapes. For the uninitiated: the scape is the flowering stalk of hardneck garlic plants, and is best harvested early to allow the garlic plant to put more energy into producing a fat bulb.
Happily, scapes taste fabulous, too!
This spring I experimented with a number of ways to use scapes, including making garlic scape pesto and risotto (see my earlier post here).
I was especially interested to find ways to preserve scapes so as to spread their garlicky goodness throughout the year. Pesto turned out to be one good preservation strategy; brine pickling is another.
Garlic scapes ready for pickling in a 1-gallon ceramic crock
Brine pickling is an ancient, low-tech preservation technique that uses no electricity and very minimal equipment and ingredients. You can read more about brining in earlier posts here and here and also at Sandor Katz's website, wildfermentation.com.
The science behind brine pickling is simple. Brine is salty water. Salt inhibits certain bacteria, and allows for the proliferation of others, namely: lactobacilli, the famous "probiotic" beneficial bacteria. Most vegetables are hosts to naturally occurring lactobacilli, which will thrive and multiply in the right environment. It turns out that the right environment is brine. Submerged in salty water, many vegetables will "sour" or ferment in a way that is both delicious and good-for-you. The lactobacilli create lactic acid, which is responsible for the sour taste of fermented foods like sauerkraut and miso. And as an extra bonus, lactic acid prevents "bad" bacterial growth by maintaining an acidic environment as the pickles pickle.
Salting and fermenting used to be what "pickling" meant - preserving food in vinegar with heat (canning) is a much more recent food preservation technique. While I do some canning, I am much more partial to low-tech, probiotic methods of preservation which instead of killing living organisms in the food, work with the microbes to create sour, salty delights. I love the simplicity of fermentation, and the way that it works with natural systems of life that are usually invisible to us.
Of course preserving without heat uses no electricity, too, which makes it more environmentally-friendly than heat processing food. Local brine pickled scapes have a very small "foodprint."
Above: all the ingredients and equipment needed to make brine pickled garlic scapes:
Just add water and: Viola!
I made my pickled garlic scapes like a simple sauerkraut: I layered chopped scapes with salt. After each inch-or-so layer of scapes, I sprinkled on a tablespoon or so of good salt, pounding with a potato masher to incorporate the salt and release the juices of the scapes. After the last layer of scapes, I poured lightly salted water over the whole thing. You can use this process to pickle a wide variety of vegetables.
For brining, I use ceramic pickling crocks and keep everything submerged by placing a plate on top of the top layer with a weight on top of the plate (I use a mason jar filled with water as a weight).
I let the scapes ferment, covered with a cloth, on the counter for between 5 and 6 weeks. You should check the pickles every so often and skim off any mold that may develop on top, and press down the weight (jar) whenever you think of it. A variety of factors can affect how flavor develops, so I recommend tasting your pickles every so often to see how they are progressing, and "harvesting" them when they good to you.
After the pickles reach your desired sourness, you can either debrine them (if they taste to salty for you) by soaking in cold water and draining, or you can just pack them in jars straight from the crock if you like the saltiness.
I packed the scapes without debrining. Some I packed in their own brine and others in a 4-to-1 water and apple cider vinegar mix. It's important to cover the pickles if you're going to keep them for any length of time, either with brine or a vinegar solution, to maintain an acidic environment.
The pickled scapes turned out fabulously: salty, sour, garlicky, and delicious!