Jews: The People of Garlic

I grew up avoiding garlic. Pesto did not exist in my house, garlic bread was unique to summer camp, and dishes would begin with plain cooked onions. My family was the antithesis of everything culinary ethnography told me was Jewish.

Apparently, we are “the people of garlic,” but if you had spent any time in my childhood home, you would think we were vampires. Spending two weeks at Yiddish Farm harvesting garlic scapes and embracing this bulb was a very different and fragrant experience.

Shortly after leaving Egypt, Goshen, and the burdens of slavery, the Jewish people yearned for the garlic and onions they had enjoyed in Egypt (Bamidbar 11:5). In a handful of places in the Talmud, we are referred to as garlic eaters. Throughout the Ashkenazi experience in Europe, Jews were notorious for their alliumic odor (for more on this, read Maria Diemling’s article in Food and Judaism). And now, this is the largest crop of the new, Jewish, organic-certified farm in the Catskills.

Garlic scapes—a seasonal crop with a short harvest period and light market presence—are a slightly more mild and sweet version of their subterranean bulb. Picked from the garlic plant just before the flower begins to seriously develop, the scape (or kantshekeh as we call it in Yiddish for its resemblance to a “whip”) contains a ton of flavor and many nutrients: fiber, protein, calcium, vitamins, and chlorophyll to name a few.

Perfect in a spring pesto, excellent grilled over an open flame, or adventurous as an alternative to chives or scallions, these greens are a versatile addition to anyone’s kitchen.

While I was participating in Yiddish Farm’s “Speak, Read, Write” program—two weeks of intensive Yiddish study for beginner and intermediate speakers—we harvested hundreds of pounds of scapes which were then brought to our market stand at the Sunday Riverdale Market. In addition to selling the raw scapes, we also sold a vegan garlic scape spread that is great for dipping, shmearing, dressing, and flavoring. Produced in a kosher kitchen (a restaurant in Kiryas Joel and another batch in the Isabella Freedman kitchen), this kosher glory is also available at Yiddish Farm’s market stand.

While working at the market last week, the handful of participants who have been living in this organic Yiddish immersion environment were able to share our excitement with the Bronx…and each other. The market was the first time we had spoken English with each other! However, instead of trying to do a blitz of Jewish geography or ask other questions, we spent the morning sharing our love of Yiddish Farm with any and all who were interested in (or were lucky enough to walk by) our scapes.

Our two weeks on the farm, while a rough transition from the English speaking world, brought us together more than most two-week summer camp experiences. We didn’t need to speak to each other; rather, we were itching to sell our knobel kantshekehs in Yiddish, which I was able to do, even to a family that understood only a bisl (a little) of this East European tongue.

Garlic scapes, or Yiddish, proved to be a language that all could understand in the Riverdale farmer’s market. If you happen to be in the NYC area, I highly recommend checking out our booth—we share space with Hazon/Isabella Freedman and many other awesome vendors.

We will be selling the scapes and vegan pesto for only a short while longer. If you are unable to make it out to us, but happen to find some fresh (organic) garlic scapes, here are a couple great ways to get the most out of your greens. Garlic scapes, like their bulbous kin, become incredibly sweet and mellow when grilled or cooked or in the oven. You can serve these as a side dish, treat them like spaghetti (a Yiddish Farm favorite), or use as a garnish for your favorite sandwich. Chop them into cream cheese, puree them into hummus, or use in soups…have fun, your body will love you, and the mosquitoes will avoid you.

Recipe: Roasted garlic scapes

1 bunch garlic scapes, starchy end and yellow bulb removed olive oil salt and pepper (to taste)

Pre-heat your oven to 425°. Prepare a baking sheet (i.e. parchment paper, silicone sheet, etcetera). Toss the scapes with the oil, salt, and pepper. Spread onto a baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes*.

*If the scapes are very thin, check them after 18 minutes.

Avery Robinson, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, is currently researching Jewish American culinary history. He is currently curating an exhibit “American Foodways” the Jewish Contribution,” that will be in UofM’s Hatcher Graduate Library from August 30 - December 8.

Jews: The People of Garlic

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