How do you eat an elephant?

A spoonful at a time!

While most of the garden is still very new and either recently planted or still to be planted, there are some crops that have been in for ages.  The onion and the garlic were the first to go in and have been there since mid-winter.  The old adage, plant on the shortest day and harvest on the longest is a good guide as these plants really need the winter chill as part of their life cycle.  I like to grow enough onion and garlic to last at least a year and in an ideal season we almost make it to summer before the stored harvest runs out.  One season the harvest was so bad, what was supposed to be a year’s worth of onion ended up as pickles in two small jars!  You win some and you lose some.  This year the crops are looking good and I think the sea air is working its magic to keep the downy mildew out of the onions and the rust out of the garlic.  They are shaping up to be my best harvest yet!

elephant garlic scapes
I made a brave move and removed all the budding flowers from my elephant garlic.

Along side these basics I am also growing some fun onions and garlic, ones that are just a tad more interesting than something that is so common it gets called a pantry staple and not even given much of a thought as it is added to the daily meal.  Fun crops like shallots – I love the way they split themselves as they grow to become so much more than they started as.   And elephant garlic, because it is just so big!  As I dig it up each season, I marvel at the enormity of it compared to the standard garlic.  In some seasons it has been the garlic staple as rust decimated the normal crop, resulting in bulbs not worth the effort peeling to reveal the miniature cloves within.  But as they are more closely related to leek, they don’t have that same pungent flavour and so in a normal season, half a dozen is a good number to grow for the novelty value.

steaming elephant garlic scapes
Steaming them is a nice way to prepare them to bring out the best of the scapes.

Elephant garlic has a dramatic presence in the garden with its architectural structure and one of these features is the beautiful pompom flowers that tower above the plant.  I knew you should remove them as soon as you see them if you want to have bigger bulbs, but to do that would mean missing out on the flower display that can go on for a long time as they make lovely dried flowers for winter arrangements.  So, I’d always left them attached to the plant.

steaming elephant garlic scapes
I steamed them in a large colander over a large pot of boiling water with a lid on, for 10 minutes alongside the asparagus we had been given

For whatever reason with my garlic I had always ended up with soft neck varieties and would go through an envious phase as I saw others harvesting and eating scapes from the hard neck varieties.   This year I am excited to see scapes forming among the leaves of my early garlic planted around Easter, so I can finally find out what all the fuss is about.  But this scape envy got me thinking about the flower buds on the elephant garlic and I decide to see if these could be treated the same way and cooked up and eaten.  There was nothing to lose – except the flowers but had the compensation of bigger bulbs forming deep within the earth.    So, I grabbed my secateurs, in case the stem was woody, which is wasn’t and nipped out all the flower buds just above the last leaf emerging from the stem.  I considered leaving a couple to compare the size of the growth verse the ones that had been cut, but I got greedy – what if they are good?

steaming elephant garlic scapes
Ideally I would have liked to dress them with melted butter and lemon juice because it would have given a lovely clean, crisp flavour but I didn’t have any lemons so I grabbed some balsamic vinegar to go with the melted butter and it gave it a rich coating to compliment the delicate flavour of the scapes.

I thought long and hard about how I would treat this ‘new to me’ harvest.  I could have pickled it, made pesto, deep fried with tempura batter or roasted it.  But I didn’t want to over complicate things.  I wanted these flower buds to be the star, so I could decide whether or not it was actually worth doing.  So, I decided to steam them along with some asparagus from my old garden, kindly brought to me by the lovely new people at our old house.

empty plate
And within moments this new found delicacy was gobbled up, with no more in sight for a really long time.

Add the verdict – I need to grow so much more elephant garlic just for this simple pleasure.  It was delicious. A light tender garlic flavour but with the texture of asparagus.  It was amazing and now I have to wait a whole year before I can enjoy that delightful experience again!

Come again soon – November has been off to a bit of a rough start but all going well it will settle down soon.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

6 thoughts on “How do you eat an elephant?

  1. Worth celebrating…your first harvest from the new garden…or were there already strawberries? Nonetheless, it’s exciting anytime something you grew with your own hands arrives on the dinner table, and if it’s super delicious it’s even better! Smile wide; you deserve it! Next year plant enough that you can leave a few flowers just to enjoy…3 should do it! And you should have lots of big cloves to plant from this season’s harvest.

    1. The strawberries where late going in so are only really getting started now, so I think it was the first harvest from the actual garden. There have been spuds from pots but they don’t count. I will definitely plant more next season : o)

  2. We love growing garlic, too, but it has always been the soft neck varieties so we’ve never had the “scapes”. Tough trade off between good for storing, and those yummy scapes, though!

    1. Up until recently I have only had the soft necks as well for my normal garlic and was always curious about the scapes I saw on the internet. But I have noticed some in my garlic this season and so I am looking forward to giving them a whirl when they get a bit bigger. : o)

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