Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Foraging Ramps

Last week, my friend Mark came by with an armful of ramps. He foraged them from the banks of the Roe Jan Creek in Germantown. I grew up among foragers, so this bundle of beautiful wild leeks was an utter joy.

My Maine relations are out this season of the year gathering dandelion greens and fiddle heads, and we've spent hours together digging clams, chopping muscles off rocks, picking wild raspberries and crawling around for blueberries. So hunting for ramps seemed like a good activity for the week. With the two-year-old asleep in the back seat, I figured a quick drive around the Village would yield a patch or two.

Mark and our friend Arno have found big patches of ramps along streams this spring. Ramps like dampness, but don't like to have their feet in standing water. My friends found theirs about 10 feet above the water line growing just a little higher than the skunk cabbage. My foraging needed to happen a little closer to the road (with sleeping toddler in tow). About five minutes into my adventure, I struck it lucky.

Ramps are wicked easy to spot, it turns out. This time of year, the spring sunshine pours right down through the open canopy of trees onto their bright green leaves. They are lit up like a beacon. Slightly deterred by a No Trespassing sign, I bypassed the first patch, but a short drive on, I hit the brakes at patch number two. Looked like ramps. Picked one. Smelled a little oniony, but could have been some woodland wildflower. Only way to know for sure, a big ol' mouthful. BINGO. Ramps.

Raw ramps are sharp and oniony, but sauteed they become sweet and mellow. I ate the first batch from Mark lightly sauteed in olive oil and sprinkled with a little Celtic sea salt. Twirled them on the end of a fork and loved them. A little stringy, but not enough to deter me.

I julienned my second bunch of ramps and sauteed them gently then stirred them into hot pasta with minced anchovies (not being a girl afraid of a little flavor). A big grind of black pepper and some sea salt made a mighty fine spring dinner.

If you're intrigued, you can buy ramps this week at Adam's for $12.99 per pound. Makes my little patch an even sweeter find. And, thank goodness we're not living in Quebec, because ramps are a protected plant there and selling them is a punishable offense. Poachers abound, because Quebecois love their ail des bois.

Oh, and the first spring shiitake are in too! They don't exactly qualify as foraged food, but when you have a pal who is a former shiitake grower, every now and then a little brown bag of them finds its way into you kitchen. If I hadn't devoured the shiitake within minutes of getting them, they'd have been lovely with my ramps. Oh well, there's always next spring.


  1. When the mid-season daffodils come into bloom, I check our ramp patch. Love them in quiche (with shitakes, of course) and ramp pesto, whirled with a bit of olive oil and lemon zest. Ah, the taste of spring!

  2. Ramp pesto with lemon zest sound amazing. That one may not wait until next spring... so how big IS your ramp patch :> ?