Ramps

ForageCast: Back in the Ramp Patch

© Eve Event Photography

As I walked the woods today with family and friends, spring was everywhere. Northern Vermont’s soils, frozen five feet deep in March, are bursting with new growth. Thousands of trout lilies poked out of the saturated soil. Trilliums, already bearing white buds, brushed up against blue cohosh and tangy wood sorrel.

The ramp ritual, my favorite sign of spring, is upon us once again. Today I checked an old patch and found carpets of wild alliums soaking up their fleeting share of sunlight. I picked just a handful of greens, knowing the plants will quickly double in size. That handful was more than enough to elevate tonight’s dinner. Pungent and earthy, the ramps were divine atop melted cheddar on toast.

Meanwhile, morels are pushing their way into Pennsylvania and creeping closer to New York. Spring is behind schedule this year, so Vermont foragers will need to hang tight for another few weeks before morel madness gets underway. In the mean time, we can drool over photos of juicy yellows on the Missouri Mycological Society Facebook page.

2015 promises to be our most exciting workshop and foray season yet, as we partner with venues including Green Mountain Audubon, Shelburne Farms, and The Nature Museum. It all kicks off on May 3, with “Mushroom Cultivation for Garden and Forest” at New Haven, CT’s Common Ground. Stay tuned – we will be announcing the full 2015 workshop lineup soon, including a few special events and new formats that pair foraging and feasting. If your basket is empty, it won’t be for long!

Northeastern ForageCast for the next few weeks!

Northeastern ForageCast™ for the next few weeks!

Spring Foray Photoshoot with Ari and Jenna

© Eve Event Photography

We always enjoy receiving notes from blog readers, workshop participants and fellow mushroom enthusiasts. When local Vermont photographer Monica Donovan contacted us earlier this year asking if she could accompany us on a foray for a personal wildcrafting photography project, we gladly welcomed her along.

Many thanks to Monica for these photographs taken amongst the ramps and morels on an early May evening.

© Eve Event Photography   © Eve Event Photography

© Eve Event Photography

© Eve Event Photography

© Eve Event Photography

© Eve Event Photography

© Eve Event Photography

Ready for Ramps

RampsMorels are on the move, and ramp season is ramping up! The foraging season is upon us, and the landscape is bursting with new life. Even up here in northern Vermont, the snowpack is receding as spring ephemerals delight in the sunlight piercing through the leafless canopy.

We moved from Ithaca, NY to Burlington in January 2012, leaving behind not only our vibrant community but also our most coveted foraging spots. We had to say goodbye to chanterelle carpets and black trumpet treasure troves, but perhaps hardest of all was moving away from our sprawling ramp patches. We called them the “ramp fields,” because every April the ramps came in so densely that they formed a solid green groundcover as vast and intoxicating as the poppy fields that Dorothy encountered as she neared the Emerald City of Oz.

Though Ithaca’s ramp fields have no equal, today we were delighted to discover our first respectable Vermont ramp patch. What began as a tiny splash of green along the roadside turned into an immense band of ramps that weaved its way around boulders as it climbed a wooded slope. I munched as I plucked, and soon my breath reeked of garlic. The taste of spring lingers on my tongue.

Now all I need is a basket of morels to round out my spring feast. As Pennsylvania and New York finds start to roll in, I patiently await spring’s greatest gift.

Ramps and Revelation – Preserving The Harvest With Ramp Pesto

Ramp pesto served over spaghetti with a French Breakfast radish garnish.

Maybe it is just because I have been in ramp heaven throughout the past three weeks, finding vast caches of wild leeks (Allium tricoccum) on our forays and loving ever minute of it. Or perhaps it is because I grew up in a household where every meal began with a head of garlic, and the unmistakably garlicky scent and flavor of the ramp satisfies my life-long love affair with this pungent allium. The bottom line is that I just can’t get enough of ramps, and these days they seem to be showing up on the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner. From lightly sautéing ramps in a tad of olive oil, salt and pepper, to featuring them in omelets, soufflés, quiches, sandwiches, risottos, burritos, soups, and pasta dishes, it is beginning to seem that there isn’t anything that doesn’t go well with ramps.

Ramps from a recent harvest.

Throughout the past two weeks, Ari and I have been obsessively eating and discussing ramps, excitedly proclaiming all of the wonderful things we could make with them. The list seems to be growing. While my adoration of ramps may border on excessive, I am not the only one. When combing through the NY Times a few weeks ago, I noticed that two restaurants would be featuring four and seven-course fixed price ramp feasts (in one case, including ramp martinis and wine).

Then, I was delighted to read an article about ramps in this season’s issue of Edible Fingerlakes and view a photograph of a wild leek aficionado proudly displaying his ramp tattoo. While I don’t feel called to express my love for these tender greens through body art, I can relate to his motive.

Alas, ramp season will not last forever and these savory plants, now seemingly everywhere in Ithaca’s forests, will soon wither as the trees leaf out. How can I prolong my enjoyment of this spring ephemeral? Making and freezing ramp pesto has been one of my favorite ways to preserve this wild edible so that it can be enjoyed in future months. Not surprisingly, this is my favorite alternative to basil pesto!

Makes about 1½ cups pesto, or a generous 8oz.

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz. or 2 cups ramp leaves, packed
  • ½ cup lightly toasted pine nuts (pecans or walnuts are a tasty substitute)
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Prepare the ramps by removing and setting aside the bulbs if they are still attached (see our recent article, The Ramp Ritual, for a discussion of harvesting technique). Blanch 50-100% of ramps for 30 seconds, depending on desired potency of garlic flavor, and then immediately place under cold water. Then, remove the ramps from the water and thoroughly drain. In the past I have used 100% raw ramps, but not without suffering from dragon breath and heartburn!

Pulse all ingredients, except the olive oil, in a food processor to form a coarse paste. Then, add the olive oil and pulse briefly. Serve with pasta, on pizza, in a sandwich, or as a garnish on meat or seafood. Mangia!

Our friend, Victoria, harvests ramps on a recent foray (left). Ramp pesto ready for the freezer (right).

The Ramp Ritual

Ephemeral wild leeks, or ramps, bring bright splashes of green to northeastern deciduous forests in early spring.

As my anticipation of morels begins to grow unbearable, I have found a welcome diversion in ramps (Allium tricoccum). On March 29 I reported seeing ramps beginning to pop through the leaves and uncurl, their vivid green hue contrasting sharply with the brown forest floor. On Tuesday, three weeks later, I returned to the same spot to find a sweeping carpet of nearly mature, densely spaced ramps, as well as several smaller satellite colonies. That very night, they were the karpas, or spring greens, on the Passover Seder plate.

Ramps, minutes from eating!

Ithaca’s forests produce a formidable bounty of these wild leeks every April, before the canopy closes in and yellows the remaining greens. In mid-May, the now leafless ramp bulb puts out a flower stalk, which blooms in June before dropping its seeds near the base of the mother plant. Both the broad leaves and small bulb have a delicious, earthy flavor and a garlicky kick that is mellowed by cooking. On top of being delicious and versatile, they are esteemed as a vitamin and nutrient-rich spring tonic.

Ramps may still be rampant throughout the deciduous forests of Appalachia, New England, and Canada, but their numbers have declined due to overharvesting. In particular, a long tradition of ramp festivals in southern Appalachia and growing demand from chefs have stressed native populations.  A recent New York Times article, “When Digging for Ramps Goes Too Deep,” highlights this problem and cites the example of Great Smoky National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. Here, ramp harvesting was banned in 2004, after a study carried out by the park found that the only way to sustainably harvest ramps is to harvest less than 10% of a patch once every 10 years.

The case study of Great Smoky National Park reminds us that, while the land may offer a cornucopia of wild food, as foragers we must take great care to ethically harvest. The meaning of ethical harvesting varies depending on the species one is collecting, but in the case of ramps it means only picking sparingly from well-established patches.

Jenna harvests ramps from one of our patches in Ithaca.

Harvesting technique is often just as important as volume collected. In the case of the perennial ramp, I consider the ubiquitous practice of harvesting both bulb and leaf inane. Ramps are not garlic; the leaves contain the vast majority of the edible material, while the puny bulbs offer nothing superior in terms of flavor. I may occasionally dig up a few bulbs for pickling, but for fresh eating the leaves offer much more substance and a more unique texture. For this reason, I cut the mature ramp leaves at the base with garden scissors, leaving the bulb in the ground to produce new leaves next spring. This way, I can have my ramps and eat them too!

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