These tendrils are the tops of garlic, the green part above the woody stem rising from the scented bulb. (The best varieties are so-called stiff-neck, not soft-neck, garlics.) You’ll see scapes at the farmers’ markets in early June, before the farmer cuts them off to let the bulb grow fatter. Many farmers pull this season’s garlic to cure it around July 4, so scapes offer the best garlic flavor you’ll get between (say) March (when you’ve run out of good local cured garlic) and June (when scapes are tender and tasty).
<a href=”http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/08/visiting-the-source-a-chef-in-the-field-garlic-scapes/” target=”_blank”>This article</a> is mostly right on, except for two points: first, there’s no need to slight the farmers “who smell garlic” in the field, while the fancy food writer “smells pesto”—I learned garlic scape pesto from a farmer, not a journo. Second, farmers and food writers take note, scapes are delicate and garlicky in early to mid-June. By late June and early July (when the bulbs are about to be pulled) they get woody and un-chewable and the flavor wanes. Even splitting them down the middle and tossing them in olive oil as an aromatic in a sauté doesn’t offer much flavor. So farmers, please note: sell them early and fresh and tender, and not later, when they are woody and the oils are disappearing. I was cooking the Napa cabbage, scapes, and fresh ginger dish in June. I haven’t bought scapes for at least two weeks.