I've been eagerly scanning the roadsides and woods the last few weeks in the hopes of spotting some of these elusive wild ramps everyone's been raving about. After several frustratingly fruitless walks in the woods and along stream beds, I finally hit pay dirt the other afternoon - a whole hillside!
Maybe it was the build up from all those weeks of seeking or the thrill of finding something green and edible growing after this endless, snowy winter, but finding them was a moment of pure excitement and elation.
I fell in love right away, before I'd even dug the first plant out of the ground or had a chance to taste one.
They're such beautiful plants. I think they look just like a cross between a Lily of the Valley and an onion. Strong but slender with green leaves and a beautiful purple stem and "seam" that runs partway up the leaves.
Perhaps, like me, you're not terribly familiar with this lovely native plant. Allow me to introduce you. Their Latin name is allium tricoccum but they're more commonly known as ramps, spring onions, ramsons, wild leeks, wild garlic, and, en Français, ail sauvage and ail des bois.
Ramps are perennials and grow in groups with their scallion-like bulbs firmly rooted beneath the soil. They favor sandy, moist soils and are often found near streams though you might also find them carpeting the forest floor where beech, birch, poplar and/or sugar maple trees are found.
If you spot some plants that you think fit this bill, you can test your identification by tearing off a leaf and giving it a sniff -- it should smell strongly of onion/garlic.
If you are lucky enough to find some, please be respectful. Harvest only from large, healthy beds and take, at most, a fraction (some things I've read suggest 15% max) of the patch you've found. Due to the fact that the demand for these wild plants has been, shall we say, ramping up (sorry, I couldn't help myself) in recent years, there are concerns about overharvesting. If you want to know more, read this recent New York Times article on the topic. The good news is that these things are potent so you will not actually need to take very many plants.
You'll want to use a trowel or hoe in order to unearth them without damaging the bulb.
Keep the plants you've harvested cool and moist (you can just leave them in some dirt, if you like) while you pick.
Once you've finished your sustainable harvest, take them home and clean them up.
Peel off the papery skin, use cold water to wash off the dirt, and use a sharp knife to remove the roots, leaving the entire bulb intact. Dry them carefully with a towel to remove all the water, then bundle them together to help retain moisture and store in the refrigerator.
Just when you thought things could not possibly get any more fun, it's time to decide what to cook with them! There are a lot of good options. Although you can eat them raw, keep in mind that they are a bit intense -- if you don't like raw onions, scallions or garlic, you're not going to like raw ramps. But their strong, garlicky flavor is enhanced by cooking - it becomes mellower and sweeter.
Based on my research and on my own experiments, I'm happy to report that ramps are excellent grilled, sautéed, roasted, pickled and in pesto. If you're not feeling super adventurous, one basic rule of thumb is that you can use ramps for anything you would normally use onions or garlic.
I will be posting a recipe for the delicious wild ramp and parsley pesto we made the other night just as soon as I can and I also have plans to make a wild ramp and lemon risotto and will keep you posted on that.
In the meantime, I will leave you with the delicious-looking ramp recipes below. Also, if you don't live in an area where ramps grow wild and you have not seen them in a store near you, you can order them from Earthly Delights.
You might like:
Some Other Wild Ramp Recipes: