If you planted garlic bulbs last fall, chances are they are starting to produce flower stalks, also called petioles. By removing these stems as they begin to curl – a process known as topping – you will channel the plant’s energy into producing larger bulbs.
Many people don’t know that these stems are not only edible: if picked young and tender (when the stems are just emerging from the plant), they taste great and are delicious fresh or cooked. If your garlic does not produce stalks, you are probably growing a less frost-hardy, soft-necked strain commonly grown in California and other warm climates. These are the stiff neck varieties that produce the stems. Several varieties are available; however Michigan State University recommends Music for Growth in Michigan.
Garlic should be planted sometime between October and November, but if you want to experiment with cooking, look at farmers’ markets.
Johnny’s Selected Seed catalog (Johnnyseeds.com) contains four types of stiff neck, but they call it stiff neck. If you decide to place an order from the catalog, do it as early as possible, as it will happen quickly.
Young stalks of garlic can be added fresh to salads and chopped for use as a side dish with other foods, like garlic. They taste like garlic, but much thinner than mature garlic.
Unlike other vegetables, unlike other vegetables, the best time to harvest garlic stalks is noon when the sun is hot, so the plant’s injury dries quickly and heals better, according to culinary historian William Voice Weaver, editor of Gourmet magazine and professor of culinary arts at Drexel University in Philadelphia. If you harvest early in the morning, the plant may sap over several hours, weakening the plant. Weaver learned the use of garlic during his stay in Slovenia, where garlic stalks have been used in cooking for thousands of years.
When Weaver did an exhaustive Internet search, he found that most recipes for garlic stalks from the United States are for pickling. If you are a fan of the pickled beans that have become the most popular, you can try them.
I searched the internet for recipes for garlic pods and found dozens, including pesto, soup, pasta, hummus, herbal oil, freezing methods, and salad dressing. I also came up with a recipe for fried garlic stalks that William Weaver discovered in Cyprus and he considers it outstanding. Just google “William Voyce Weaver’s Sauteed Garlic Pods Recipe.”
Nancy Zerlag is a head gardener and freelance writer for Metro Detroit. Her column appears in Friday in Homestyle. To ask her a question, go to Yardener.com and click Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.