Foraging: Ramps 2011

For the last few years, a common sight on early spring restaurant menus and in farmers markets has been the Ramp (a.k.a. wild leek). The ramp is a member of the onion family, and it only grows on the East Coast, mostly in the Appalachians where it is very common. It has a different look than any other in the onion family, it has broad green leaves, most times with purple tints on the lower stem, and a stalk and bulb like a scallion. The taste is that of an onion but has a distinctive garlic smell. The whole plant is edible. The window to harvest ramps is very small, only few weeks before the leaves die back, not to reemerge until the following spring.

Ramps have not been successfully cultivated so any ramps that are eaten are foraged wild. Due to the immense popularity recently there has been a bit of a strain on the native populations of ramps. Though not in danger yet, we should be careful to not over-harvest to allow the ramps to regenerate naturally. It takes many years for a large stand of ramps to grow, and this must be kept in mind when harvesting.

I am lucky enough to have family that live on a mountain in upstate New York, adjacent to a giant old growth stand of ramps. The stand below probably easily covered a quarter mile of mountainside.

My wife and I recently harvested enough for our friends’ and families’ enjoyment, being careful not to take too many from any one spot.

Ramps are wonderful in any application scallions are used. This morning’s meal was an omelet made with pastured eggs, ramps, and Spanish goat cheese. It was delicious. Other great ways to eat ramps and preserve them include making and freezing a ramp pesto or pickling the stems and bulbs.

This year I am going to try something different and transplant some of the ramps in a pot. Online I’ve seen that some folks have had success cultivating them this way, and I hope it can be replicated.

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