'Rare Ripe' Garlic Shoots
There is much to say about the meaning of the term 'rare ripe' and even more to say about garlic. In the interest of your time, however, I will skip over English gardening history and out-dated nomenclature to say that 'rare ripe' is an old term meaning "earliest fruit or harvest." The story behind garlic shoots however is a longer tale and I ask your indulgence:
The garlic we find in the grocery is a 'head' made up of several (>6) comma-shaped cloves. The large size of these heads is due in part to plant selection. It is also the consequence of human cultivation technique. We grow garlic by separating the garlic heads into individual cloves and planting each clove several inches apart. This encourages vigorous plant growth and the development of a large head/cloves. A spacing of 4-6 inches between cloves does the trick for garlic growers.
Garlic that grows in the wild, however, doesn't have the benefit of a farmer separating each garlic head into cloves. Wild garlic sprouts up from a whole or nearly whole garlic head. Each new garlic faces stiff competition from its brothers and sister garlic plants a few millimeters away. That competition results in a much smaller plant and mature bulbs that reach only an inch or two in diameter. Because tiny garlic has so little commercial value no sane farmer would grow garlic in this 'wild' manner unless of course you are a botanical aesthetic destined for a commercial failure. Did someone say "Vegetables of Interest" ?
These garlic shoots are from a fall planting of heirloom ophioscorodon garlic. Whole garlic heads with attached scapes were planted about 4 inches apart to simulate how wild garlic might grow in a patch. Everything used in the farming was organic except the gas needed to run the Honda tiller.
Garlic shoots present as clusters since each arose from a head of garlic. Each shoot is edible and delicious from the leaf tips to the roots. There will be a small amount of organic matter around each plantlet that is degenerate from the original clove. Clean it off and don't complain. Some of the leaf tips are red-colored. This isn't frost damage per se but rather it is from low auxin levels that allow anthrocyanins to form. In other words, eat it and don't complain. Finally, the cost of producing garlic shoots is very high. Pay it and don't complain.
Garlic shoots are a very rare spring treat for the chef. True, "spring garlic" can be found later in the season but it's coarse fair compared with the delicate size and flavor of garlic shoots. My hope is that some talented chef will pair roasted rare ripe garlic shoots with warmed oysters served in a small pool of shallot/butter sauce. Perhaps they will garnish the dish with garlic roots briefly fried in hot oil. And finishing it off would be a large, complimentary glass of Raveneau 2002 Grand Cru Chablis from the Les Clos vineyard. Sigh.
I can dream, can't I?