Chilled Garlic Scape and Buttermilk Soup

There’s nothing like a bowl of cold savory soup in hot weather, and until the day we do a post on jellied madrilene, this Chilled Garlic Scape and Buttermilk Soup will have to stand in.  It’s a wrinkle on vichyssoise, close enough to feel familiar, but with a few turns you might not have expected, like scapes and buttermilk.

The world of garlic may be conveniently divided into hardneck and softneck varieties.  If you’ve ever bought a head of garlic and found the bulbs packed around a hard stiff stem, you’ve used hardneck garlic.  About a month after planting all garlic produces shoots, but only hardneck varieties produce the curlicue shoot with the pointed bulbil, or flower bulb, at the tip.  Although the bulbil doesn’t produce actual flowers, it does turn into a seed packet.  Typically the scape is cut so that the plant’s energy goes into the bulbs instead of the green Six Flags loop de loop of a scape.  The hard stem you find at the center of some bulbs is what’s left of the scape.

The flavor of scapes is milder than of fresh cloves–think of it as the pastel option in the garlic Crayola box.  You can grill, stir-fry, or sauté scapes, use them to make pesto or, if they’re young enough, simply eat them raw in salads.

We tested this recipe over two days, with two different batches of scapes, which conveniently illustrated a couple of things worth noting.  As they get older scapes grow stalkier, stiffer.  When still young, that is, before they’ve completed a curl, they’re quite malleable, you can slice them crosswise and sprinkle them raw over fish or salad or soup the same way you do with chives.  The base of the stems, unless very young, is too hard to use, so just snap it off, like an asparagus stalk.  When I took the photographs of the completed soup, the scapes were too mature for the slice-and-sprinkle-like-chives approach (chewy garnish, anyone?).  In fact, several days later I decided to try out a recipe a young farmer suggested to me–sautéed scapes with an egg on top.  I thought I’d sweat the sliced scape rounds in a little butter, then add an egg on top. Unfortunately, the schwitz didn’t do the trick.  I followed Jody’s suggestion to add a little water to soften them up.  They were delicious, and caramelized a deep brown when I finished, but I could never have eaten them raw.  The moral of the story is, buy scapes as young as possible.  Also, this represents a modest step in the direction of garlic for the soup–if you want a more pronounced garlic flavor use more scapes and/or stir in more pesto.  Or do what I did–stir in some pesto, then add more for a garnish.

Just by chance–we hadn’t yet planned this post–I happened to photograph scapes au naturel at Chef Melissa Kelly’s farm, which Jody and I visited a few weeks ago.  We hope to do a post on our trip to Primo, Melissa’s restaurant and her adjacent farm in Rockland, Maine.  In the meantime, you’ll just have to make do with her scapes.

Chilled Garlic Scape and Buttermilk Soup


  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1¾  cups chopped scapes
  • 2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white part
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups sliced peeled potatoes,  about 1  pound
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • ½ cup parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. Heat the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat.  When the foam subsides, add 1½ cups scapes and the leeks and reduce the heat to medium-low.  Season with salt and pepper, cover with a round of parchment, and cook 8-10 minutes or until tender, but not browned.
  2. Add the potatoes and the chicken stock, increase the heat to medium-high, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat so the stock simmers.  Cook 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.  Puree with a hand held blender or in a food processor.
  3. Stir in the buttermilk.  “Season to taste, oversalting very slightly as salt loses savor in a cold dish.  Chill.”  (This is a direct quote from Julia.)
  4. Combine the remaining ¼ cup scapes, parsley and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor with the olive oil.  Puree until smooth.  Season to taste with salt.
  5. Serve the soup in chilled bowls and decorate with a swirl of pesto.

Jody Notes:

In setting out to write this recipe, I went directly to a tried and true recipe in a book I love, Julia Child’s  vichyssoise from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” There it was, waiting for me like an old friend.  It was like walking along the railroad tracks at the beginning of a summer.  Something I hadn’t done in a long time, yet so familiar the groove was still there.

Julia observes: “An excellent lunch or light supper need be no more than a good soup, a salad, cheese and fruit.  And combined according to your own taste, a good homemade soup in these days of the can opener is almost a unique and always satisfying experience. “ Julia Child, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” 1966.  

This isn’t Julia’s vichyssoise.  It’s not wildly different, but it’s different enough that you wouldn’t mistake the two.  This is tarter, because of the buttermilk, a bit offbeat because of the scape contribution, still more divergent with the addition of  the parsley-scape pesto.    

But it began with Julia.  The near half century since the publication of  MACF has seen a lot of craziness in the American culinary scene.  At times it’s seemed as if we jumped the rails of culinary common sense and plummeted down the hillside into a wild terrain of fad diets, extreme eating rules and wholesale exile of many of the things that give us pleasure.  Yet, judging by the evidence of many food blogs we appear to be returning to a saner view of what we eat and how we prepare it.  Julia’s observation that homemade soup is “almost a unique and always satisfying experience“  is as true today as it was when she wrote it.  I love the fact that we’re in the middle of a Julia love fest, celebrating her 100 years.  She’d be so happy to know that we’re dropping the nonsense, using butter and cream (even if a bit more moderately), and heading back into the kitchen to cook really good simple food.  If there were any tribute I could give her it would be to change the title of her masterpiece to “Mastering the Art of French Cooking… and Eating.”  

22 thoughts

  1. omg, I am JUST harvesting scapes today and wondering what to do with them, this being the first time growing garlic. My scapes are a tad bigger than those pictured … hopefully they have gone over the edge. Will let you know.
    Thank you!
    (p.s. I am still planning on replying to your comment about biga-based dough … once I use up all my frozen biga and turn to my sourdough starter.)

    • I wish I had time to bake bread these days! Too much happening. Let me know how it goes with the scapes. We may blanch the remaining ones we have, turn the whole batch into pesto (w/out the cheese) and then freeze it in snack bags. Ken

  2. What a lovely soup! They’re gone here for the year, but we’ve got a good deal of scape & pea pesto in the freezer from when (pre-heat wave) we were getting them by the boxful from our neighbor.

    • Scape and pea (tendrils?) together? That not only sounds delicious, but would probably be gorgeous to photo as well. I was wrong about us transforming ours into pesto. A few minutes ago I saw my wife throwing some leeks, peppers, anise and mustard seeds into a pot of vinegar and water on the stove–she’s going to pickle the scapes. Ken

      • Actually, they were mostly overgrown and no longer very pretty snap peas. Tendrils would be good, too, but we find them so rarely that we feel compelled to use them for salad or Asian frying. Pickled sounds great, too!

      • As a small garlic grwoer, we are right in the midst of garlic scape madness!I, too, remove the pod as I had read that it tastes bitter.For our scape pesto, we use either pistachios, pignoli, almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts. We don’t even use basil as the scapes themselves take the place of both garlic and basil as they are so fresh and green.I whir the scapes, nuts and olive oil in the food processor, and then add freshly-grated romano cheese by hand so that we have a nice chunky consistency.Add sea salt to taste.Our favorite pasta salad is pesto over rotini, with cherry tomatoes, served at room temp.Also, I chop the scapes and freeze them, then make pesto in the middle of winter! LOVE IT!

    • Thanks. Those are the curry eggs from last week’s post on pickled eggs, which contributes to their color. However, the post also talks about how to make a perfect hb egg. Skip back one week. Ken

    • Hey Jeff & Jen made Zuppa Toscana last night with your Kale & added green garlic. Awesome! An easy one-pot meal I used Italian Turkey Sausage, Chicken Broth, 1/2 cup Fat Free Half n’ Half, 8 small Yukon Gold Potatoes, Kale (of csuroe), and red pepper flakes, salt n’ pepper. Really easy, really good.

      • I am so sorry to respond so late. For some reason your comment was scooped up by our spam filter. I’m so glad you enjoyed the sausage and kale combo! Sounds great! Ken

  3. Although I made Julia’s recipe for vichyssoise just a few weeks, I’m so intrigued by the use of buttermilk instead of cream that I may just have to make it again!

    Great post. I hope you’ll share a link to it on the JC100 Facebook page, or allow me to :-)

    • Thank you so much for helping to get the word out on scaeps. Garlic lovers everywhere need to know how wonderful they are. We’ve grown garlic for 30 years. About 15 years ago we started cooking with the scaeps and sharing what we had with friends. We first tasted pickled scaeps at the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival and have friends who have started using them this way too. Even though the harvest season for scaeps is quite short, we have discovered they keep very well in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Ironically, the refrigerator is the last place you want to keep garlic bulbs, but the scaeps love it. We enjoyed being part of the 2010 Sharon Springs Harvest Festival and are sorry to have to miss this year’s harvest festival. The HVGF is always the last full weekend in September and we are scheduled to be there. Best Wishes.

      • Sorry to respond so tardily, but for some reason a number of comments on this post were trapped by an over-zealous pam filter. I’ll have to mark that week on my calendar for the HVGF. This year I think we’re biking in Italy, but maybe next year! Pickled scapes–great minds think alike! Ken

  4. Hi Laura–It makes things just a tad lighter, and as I mentioned, adds a tart element that I find welcome when things are hot. I’m not quite sure how to do the FB link, especially since it looks as the the JC100 does the sharing, but if you want to try, please do! Thanks. Ken

    • Fixing the scapes with suasage and pasta is a GREAT idea. Why didn’t I think of that? Hopefully there will be some more at the farmer’s market this weekend. Either that or I’ll have to start harvesting my own garlic so I can have scapes whenever I want!

  5. Lovely! I have a friend who just received a ton of scapes through her CSA share and is wondering what to do with them. Sending her the link to this post should do the trick nicely. We are huge soup fans here and will be adding this one to our summer repertoire for sure.

    • I was going to turn our remainders into pesto, but Jody was faster than me. We now have a big jar of pickled scapes, which our son has already utilized to add a kick to egg salad. Ken

  6. Ken, sounds wonderful – I do have a lot of scapes, as I can’t resist picking them up when I see them :) A cold soup sounds wonderful. I always make a lot of pesto – minus the cheese and nuts- and freeze in ice cube trays (the only time they get used anymore…). I use them all winter long to season soups, fish, pasta.

    • Did you see my FB pic? Jody got to them before me–she pickled them before I could make them into pesto. Having a freezer full of little bombs of July scape pesto sounds great – especially in February! Ken

  7. I just harvested my first arlamod of garlic scape bracelets today and sent them off to market. On Friday, when we harvest for the weekend markets, there will be more – then I will take one home and try cooking with it. Just tasting a bit of its green made me realize that we are truly missing out when we shop in grocery stores only. In midlife, I have taken an internship on an organic farm in Northeast Ohio. It is a wonderful, if tiring, way to spend the days. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    • My brain is fried–What’s an “arlamod of garlic scapes’? Ha! Thank you for the nice words about the blog. I’m sorry to get back to so slowly – so many comments on this post were strangely marked as spam. I’m impressed that you’re doing an organic farming internship! For a couple of years as a young kid my family lived on a small family farm (we rented an apartment from the farmer). There was nothing like that. While I appreciate the efforts of certain grocery stories to stock local produce and support local people, there’s nothing like getting stuff right out of the field. Good luck. Ken

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