There are reasons as to why I only harvest a handful of ramps when there are thousands in my "ramp patch." As are there reasons why I comb the woods mid March in a ridiculous-looking 1980s snowmobile suit--just in case one uber-early ramp might have peeked through the soil without me seeing. And sometimes those concrete examples as to why we love some things aren't quite necessary. Ramps, Allium tricoccum, generally sprout out around mid to late April in damp forest-like conditions. Slightly acidic and a more sandy-loam type soil are their preference but they will grow more than happily out here amidst the central Minnesotan oak savannahs. If and when you are lucky enough to happen upon a cluster of ramps only their green ovular leaves are visible. These delicately foliaged tops gradiant into a reddish pink colored stem and eventually turn into a bulbous white base of nodular onion rootlets.
Though they do look oh so clean and pristine if you find them at your local co-op they definitely require a little elbow grease to unearth. Yank too hard and you'll leave the rootlet base in the ground. Not hard enough and gosh darn it they won't budge. My solution is to carry a small hand shovel that enables me to keeps the entire ramp specimen in tact. Insert shovel, dig straight down surrounding the ramp and give a little wiggle with your spade. Once you've encircled and jostled the soil you can give a little pull near the stem and pray the little ramp nod stays connected. Out she should pop.
The problem with this method is ramps are very slow to reproduce. They only form new ramps from mature usually at least 3 year old ramps through rhizomial reproduction known as asexual. The second method called bisexual is through flower and seed dispersal also requiring a mature of age ramp. Even more painstaking the seed once produced takes over a year to germinate. Facts being facts, this time around I am opening to a new alternative option. Brought to my attention from a dear friend raised in Denmark, this option consists of snipping only leafy greens of the ramps. This method does not remove the entire plant and allows the ramp to remain in it's environment in order to reproduce.
Well, now that you've realized the painstaking amount of effort needed unearth these little ephemeral gems, we can discuss the reason you go through all this tedious work in the first place. Flavor. What they lack in size they certainly do not come up short with in the tastiness department. A bit of leek a bit of garlic. We'll just call it good eatin'. Some find them too pungent. I deem them pitch perfect.
There you have it folks. The 101 and how to on the wild leek. A dear friend Tom, who no longer resides in this world in the physical sense, was the first person who introduced me to Allium tricoccum aka the ramp. He loved them. Adored them. Once he tagged me in a photo where he had hauled two entire sinks worth of slender green, pink and white bulbed beauties. For me ramps are my friend Tom Taylor.
Pickled ramps were the first wild edible I was gifted courtesy TT. Preserved and foraged, of course, himself. For this post I leave you a recipe for my version of pickled ramps. It's not Tom's but I figure if each year the ramps approve...Tom wouldn't object either.
So, although their taking forever for their little selves to propagate justifies not harvesting enormous quantities of them. And although their early spring growth time might requisite wearing obnoxious looking snowmobile gear. The real reason as to why I love these lovely spring ephemerals does not need justification.
Every spring when I spy the little ramps' greens bursting forth through the forest floor, I bow deeply. Although my friend is gone, each year I am greeted with his spirit through the ramps. Their little leaves rippling with the wind. A subtle wave from a deeply missed friend.
As always enjoy. And may it be with the ones you love...all the better.
Makes 1 1/2 pint
- 6-10 ramps cleaned of dirt
- 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 3/4 cups of apple cider vinegar
- 3/4 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- spices: 1 each: cinnamon stick, bay leaf, black peppercorns & coriander
1. Remove the dirt and debris from the ramps and rinse and drain them in a colander. Take 1 clean and sterilized 1/2 pint sized mason jar and pack the ramps, greens and all, leaving approximately 1/2 inch head space from the rim. Set aside.
2. Take a medium saucepan and combine the vinegar, water and sugar and salt. Place the pan over medium hight heat and dissolve the sugar and salt while brining the liquid to a boil. Once to a boil add the spices and reduce to a simmer. Maintain a simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Have sterilized lids and rings ready for your mason jars. After the 5 minute simmering period remove the saucepan from the heat. Carefully pour the liquid over the ramps.
4. Wipe the rims and place the lids and rims on the ramps. Allow them to cool and place in the fridge for 3-4 weeks. The ramps will keep at least 6 months in the fridge.