An 18th Century Gardens ‘scape

Yet another adventure we can blame on Outlander.. this time we find ourselves in the 18th century garden armed with.. garlic.

At Castle Leoch Claire, having landed unceremoniously in the 18th century, finds herself put to work in the garden planting garlic.  Garlic is one allium, or member of the onion family, I haven’t tried growing in my own garden.  In fact, prior reading the account in Outlander I’d rather assumed garlic was one of those complicated plants requiring rather more space and labor than it makes sense for a modern gardener to invest.

I should have known better.  Just because something is available cheaply and in bulk at the grocery store doesn’t mean you won’t produce something even better in your garden with a modicum of effort.  18th century gardens didn’t just grow “garlic,” they grew varieties of garlic.. and a few other surprises…

Garlic, from an organic garlic farm, is incredibly expensive.  Since, on the face of it, my wool is also pretty pricey, I’m not in a position to be critical regarding pricing, but garlic from our local farm is sufficiently expensive as to give one pause.

Indigo Blue by The Farm at Morrison CornerSo is my wool, for that matter.  A sweater’s worth of my angora/icelandic blend will run you $100-125.  It’s not an outrageous figure, but it’s not an impulse purchase either.  For that kind of money, you want a pattern.

And for the money they’re asking for their garlic, one wants a recipe that will show the stuff off.  It’s sufficiently pricey as to lead you to expect it is, in some way, remarkable.  More pungent.  More flavorful.  Much better than the stuff you find at the supermarket.

Which, again, is not much different from my wool, which is unique.  As far as I know there isn’t another farm offering the blend I do, spun as mine is, with similar colorways.

If you want something special, you have to be prepared to pay for it.

So, last autumn, I made my way to the garlic farm and bought a bag of freshly harvested red garlic bulbs.

I was surprised to find how much juicer fresh, very fresh, garlic is than anything you find in the grocery store bin.  It pops and snaps and drips as you’re dicing it, like a crisp apple.  And you use much less of it to get a full flavor.

Consequently after a weekend of entertaining I still had a couple of heads of garlic left at the bottom of the little bag and, ever thrifty, I decided to take a page out of Claire’s 18th century garden experience and plant my garlic.

Garlic is usually planted in the fall, and harvested in the fall, which is actually pretty interesting from a gardener’s point of view.  Rather than having to carefully store seed through the winter you simply pull up several plants, break the bulbs into individual cloves, and replant them.  Nothing could be easier.

In my case I fluffed up a bit of a raised bed convenient to the house and pushed the cloves, root side down, into the soil.  I mulched it lightly and left it, hoping the poor things would make it through the winter.

scape5Which.. they did.

In June I discovered garlic is so much more than bulbs.  In June I discovered… garlic scapes.

Garlic, it turns out, like other alliums, produces a seed head.  Leaving the stalk and pod to grow will result in a 30% reduction in the size of your final bulbs, and given that these bulbs aren’t very large to start with 30% is a pretty large crop loss.

These stalks are called “scapes” and discovering them is one of those happy surprises I’ve made while noodling around in the 18th century.  Scapes are ready to harvest in June, months before garlic, onions, leeks or shallots are going to be ready to lend a hand to a dish, and they are ready to harvest a full month before even the scallions will be ready for pulling.  Right about the time last year’s garlic harvest is nothing more than a memory and papery skins in a bowl the scapes come in to take over flavoring the summer vegetable harvest.

scape2 There’s a host of spring greens in my garden right now, some you’ll recognize from Claire’s Garden Seeds: beet greens, spinach, swiss chard, lettuce, and kale, are all ready to harvest.  So too is the basil. In the throes of my 18th century adventure making pesto would be out of the question… I’ve no garlic bulbs left, and they won’t be ready to harvest for months.  But pesto made with garlic scapes?  Delicious.

You can chop up scapes and eat them raw but sauteing them brings out the flavor.  As it happens I have mounds of spinach this year (spinach is a dicey crop for me, some years it does well, most years it doesn’t), so I decided to try a dish we would consider a “brunch” item, but was, in the 18th century, likely more of a dinner dish.

One of the ways to measure prosperity?  How a culture uses eggs in its cuisine.  Eggs are inexpensive protein, in almost every time and place.. in a wealthy community eggs are relegated to a supporting role, as a breakfast food, in baking, or in deserts.  In a culture with less access to protean eggs become the basis for a hearty meal.  Eggs, especially from free ranging chickens, are a cheap source of fat and protean and even require less fuel to cook than other animal or plant based proteans.

scape1 You’ll need a pile of spinach. Mine is a bit oversized, which lends itself well to this recipe because I’ll be wilting it down. And you’ll need four good sized garlic scapes, and three eggs.

scape3We’ll need a cast iron pan, and begin by chopping up the garlic scapes and sauteing them in butter until they are tender crisp. While the scapes are cooking turn your oven on to 310F and rinse your spinach.

scape4Add the spinach to your scapes and stir as the spinach wilts. You want the greens bright, not over wilted. Remove your pan from the heat and make three small wells in the spinach. Carefully crack an egg into each well.

Put the pan into the oven for 10 minutes, check the yolk for done by shaking the pan lightly, and remove to serve when it meets your taste.

Salt and pepper if desired, and either serve as is, or, if you prefer a soft yolk, over toast.

Since garlic is a crop planted in autumn you’ve got a couple of months to dig yourself a garden patch and to source some nice bulbs for planting.  I’ve never done business with them but has a nice collection of both hard and softneck varieties, and explanations of each variety so you can make an informed choice.  And you might want to dig up a bit more ground than just a “patch.”  This autumn my little garlic experiment is going to expand to a plot.. at least 8′ x 3′, and include the old variety “Brown Rose” and, as my tribute to Outlander “Red Janice.”

Garlic… another reason to spend time in 18th century gardens.

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