HOW TO FIND, HARVEST AND EAT RAMPS
Ramps, or wild leeks, are one of the earliest green vegies to emerge in the Spring. And, for those like me, ramps are the holy grail of forageable wild edibles. How to find, harvest and eat ramps may be a mystery to many of you. Especially since they’re both elusive and quick to appear and disappear within 4-6 weeks in early Spring.
This short growing season helps ramps maintain a mystique of “gourmet” status, particularly in urban restaurants and green markets.
Historically, ramps were known as a Spring tonic in the Appalachian areas and down through the Carolinas, where I currently live. Boiled into a strong “tonic”, the mixture would be used for a host of ailments. Did it work? That I cannot say. But, since ramps are high in Vitamin C, they did save many a mountaineer from scurvy and other nutritional maladies.
FORAGING FOR RAMPS
We ramp and mushroom foragers dream all year of the uniquely pungent garlicky-onion flavor they lend to our dishes. But ramps are still mild enough to be enjoyed raw in salads or sandwich spreads too.
Ramps (Allium tricoccum) occur at higher elevations in Eastern North America from Georgia to Canada. They’re easily recognized by their 1 or 2 broad leaves, measuring about 2 inches wide and are a total of 4-12 inches long. The above picture is a great example of the different sized ramps you’ll end up with after a harvest session.
HOW TO FIND, HARVEST AND EAT FROM A “PATCH” OF RAMPS
Since wild Spring leeks (ramps) love altitudes above 3000 ft., I have found myself in ramp heaven since moving to our new home on top of a mountain in Western North Carolina.
Last Spring as I was driving up the mountain, I spotted a huge area of dark green down one of the slopes. They looked like ramps, but I couldn’t be sure.
A few days later as I was walking April, our Boston Terrier, I decided to get a closer look. Lo and behold, I found the largest patch of ramps that I had ever seen in my life. I was in ramp heaven!
Later that day I set out with my foraging basket and spent a lovely hour or so, carefully harvesting my newest find. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take a camera along with me! Trust me, I stumbled on the “mother lode”. I know some “shroomers” in my local mushroom group that would have fainted at the mere site of my find.
If you can’t forage for your own Spring ramps, head to your farmer’s market the day they open, and you just may find some tucked among the radishes and asparagus.
HOW TO PRESERVE YOUR RAMPS
Look for ones that are firm and with bright green leaves. When you get them home, don’t wash them until you use them, but wrap them in plastic and store in the refrigerator. Just before cooking, trim off the roots and any unappealing leaves and give them a quick rinse and dry with a paper towel.
The easiest way to store ramp bulbs is to freeze them. Simply cut off the greens, then clean the dirt off the bulbs. Continue by spreading the bulbs out on a sheet pan without touching each other and freeze. Once frozen, put them in jars or plastic containers, seal tightly and put in the freezer for up to six months. You can also wrap them individually in wax paper and store frozen in sealed jars.
The greens won’t last long fresh and deteriorate when frozen. They can be dried, but they lose a lot of their flavor.
One great way to “keep” them is to make a ramp compound butter. Simply add finely diced ramps to softened butter, roll in a long cylinder shape in wax paper, then twist ends and freeze!
For short term storage put ramps in the refrigerator as soon as possible. They should be stored uncleaned. If a refrigerator is not immediately available ramps can be kept with the bulbs submerged in a bucket of water and placed in a cool shaded area.
The leaves will start to wilt in the refrigerator after 4 days or so and in the bucket after a day or so depending on temperature.
I’m sharing some fabulous Ramp recipes today, so you’ll want to note the first weekend your farmer’s market opens. They come and go within 4-6 weeks, so if you see them, grab a few bunches.
FORAGING RAMPS RESPONSIBLY – To sustain a healthy wild Spring ramp patch year after year, you must harvest ramps with care
Unfortunately for ramps, they’re still a really trendy ingredient these days. Chefs, foodies, and other ramp-lovers flock to the mountains for a chance to gather enough to enjoy in several different recipes.
“Ramp feeds,” known as ramp festivals these days, have been taking a toll on ramp populations for years and the added pressure of their recent popularity has really put a huge dent on their numbers. The implications affect conservationists and foodies alike.
Traditionally, the Cherokee in Tennessee and North Carolina dug, and still dig, ramps by leaving the roots. This is done by cutting off the bottom of the bulb with a pocket knife while it’s still in the ground. It’s really a simple process, but you need to pay attention and cut carefully.
You’ll find ramps growing on South facing slopes that have a sandy mix of soil. They tend to like the same condition as morel mushrooms do. What an incredible foraging opportunity if you actually are lucky enough to find both!
WHAT TOOLS TO USE
Generally, I’ll use a pocket knife with about a two inch blade, but I’ve found that a longer fixed-blade knife works better. It’s much easier to get a longer blade to the root without disturbing the surrounding soil, thereby keeping the parent plant intact. Using a “weeder” can also be helpful in finding the “main” root balls.
Now I know that sustainably harvesting ramps takes more time. But isn’t it a lot more fun taking a leisurely walk through the woods?
I’ve seen groups racing about, trying to gather as many as they could pull. Wanting to scream, I gently reminded them that the patch wouldn’t be here next year if they continued their gathering frenzy. Undaunted, they continued to ravage the patch. It’s since been diminished by over 70 percent. Shame on them.
If you do find a patch of your own, please consider taking only greens and leaving the bulbs undisturbed. You’ll be thanking yourself next year when you find the patch healthy and spreading! Now you know exactly how to find, harvest and eat ramps!
Now let’s start cooking with our wild Spring leeks!
RAMP-BUTTERMILK BISCUITS WITH ROSEMARY DUST
Since ramp season is so short, and I only get out once or twice per season, I need to use them up fast! I’m not a huge fan of trying to keep them in the freezer, I want to eat them, like right now!
To that end, I’ve come up with some great recipes that highlight how versatile these little gems really are. Ramp-Buttermilk Biscuits with Rosemary Dust is one of my favorite ways to use them for a quick and easy “nibble” with soups or salads.
Obviously, you can made them any size you prefer, but I like to make them on the small side. Using a one and one-half inch square cutter makes them the perfect size for “popping” one into your mouth.
If you do use a larger biscuit-cutter, make sure you adjust the baking time accordingly. A two inch biscuit will usually need at least 5 more minutes baking time.
MAKING ROSEMARY DUST
Making the “rosemary dust” is a simple process of drying fresh sprigs of rosemary in the oven for a few minutes. Then a quick grind with a mortar and pestle, and you’re done. Make enough to have extra and keep it in a spice jar to add a boost of flavor to vegetables and meat dishes.
I’ll generally make up a double-batch of these biscuits, then separate into “meal-sized” portions for H.H. and I. Freezing them after wrapping tightly in plastic wrap, they’ll be ready to grab and heat up at a moment’s notice. That’s really nice on a hectic weekday!
You’ll find the recipe card for Buttermilk-Ramp Biscuits with Rosemary Dust at the bottom of this post.
RACK OF LAMB WITH BACON-RAMP PESTO
When you combine two fabulous ingredients like lamb and ramps, you know you’ve got Spring on a plate! Rack of Lamb with Bacon-Ramp Pesto is delicious, but when paired with asparagus and pesto-coated pasta, it’s perfection on a plate. And oh so pretty!
Roasting a rack of lamb is a snap once you’ve got the correct roasting/resting times. Honestly, making the Bacon-Ramp Pesto is actually the most time consuming part of this recipe.
The whole thing comes together, with pasta and asparagus, in well under an hour! So, this is no sweat to make for a lovely late-Friday evening dinner, is it?
The Bacon-Ramp Pesto can be several days ahead, and it can be kept in the refrigerator for 10 days.
Learning how to find, harvest and eat ramps is worth it, if not just for this recipe!
If you’re looking for a great Easter dinner recipe this is it!
Making the pesto days before makes this dish so fast and easy. Your guests will never realize this elegant plate can come together so fast and effortlessly.
Yes, I’m telling you that roasting a rack of lamb is no sweat, really. Don’t be intimidated. Just follow the directions carefully and you’ll be slicing lovely pink lamb chops in no time.
WANT TO KNOW THE REAL SECRET TO FABULOUS LAMB CHOPS?
It’s not the seasoning. Nor “frenching” the bones. It’s starting with room temperature meat.
That makes all the difference. In order to have perfectly roasted meat, the cooking times must be exact. Starting with room temperature meat ensures that you cooking time will be absolutely accurate.
I would strongly advise that you don’t try to cook your lamb past the medium-rare stage. Lamb tends to get tough and dry when overcooked.
Here’s the link to this fabulous recipe:
- 2 cups AP flour
- 3 tsp. baking powder
- 3 Tbs. Parmesan cheese, fresh grated
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. fresh cracked pepper
- 1 stick unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup ramps, trimmed and finely sliced (entire plant)
- 1 large egg, beaten (for egg wash)
- 2 6" long fresh rosemary stems
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove rosemary leaves from the stems and place on a small rimmed baking pan. Cook in oven for 5-7 minutes, or until completely dried. When cool, use a mortar and pestle to turn dried rosemary into "dust".
- Turn oven up to 425 degrees. Place the flour, baking powder, Parmesan, salt and pepper in your food processor. Pulse a few times to combine.
- Add the cold butter pieces to the processor bowl and pulse on/off to cut the butter into the flour mixture. Stop when the mixture resembles a fine meal. Transfer flour mixture to a medium mixing bowl.
- Add ramps and stir to combine. Then add buttermilk and stir JUST until a soft dough forms.
- Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a cohesive ball of dough. Press into a round about 4 inches in diameter. Roll out to 1/3 inch thickness and cut with a 1 1/2" biscuit/cookie cutter.
- Gather scraps of dough, roll out once more and cut remaining biscuits.
- Place biscuits on an un-greased baking sheet. Brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle with rosemary dust.
- Place pan in refrigerator to chill for 15 minutes.
- Bake in upper middle of oven for 7-8 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on rack.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.
Nutrition InformationYield 24 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 82Total Fat 4gSaturated Fat 3gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 2gCholesterol 19mgSodium 194mgCarbohydrates 9gFiber 0gSugar 1gProtein 2g
DON’T MISS OUT ON RAMP SEASON THIS YEAR!
How to find, harvest and eat ramps is not rocket science. Some common sense and conservative harvesting will equals years of enjoyment from a healthy and vigorous ramp community.
Even if you don’t have a “ramp patch” nearby, make sure you keep you eyes peeled for these tender and delicious taste treats at your local farmer’s market in just a few weeks!
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