You know it’s April in the Hudson Valley when you see ramps pop up, in the farmer’s market or in the woods. Ramps are wild leeks, an allium related to onions, shallots, garlic, and of course, leeks, and they create quite a sensation each spring when the broad, waxy green leaves start popping up in the woods. With good reason: although some think we should just shut up about ramps, there is a reason that foodniks go a little mad each Spring; ramps are simply wonderful. They’re delicious raw or cooked, you can use them like a scallion, a leek or a shallot; the leaves and the bulb are edible, in fact the plant is edible all year long, if you can find it. The flavor is…wild. Ramps definitely have that oniony taste & smell, but the flavor is unique; spicier & more tangy than a commercial leek, but with not quite the sharpness of a shallot or onion. The greens have a texture between chard and baby spinach, yet the spice of arugula without the peppery bite. What can I say? Ramps are hard to describe – it’s worth the effort to find some and try them out for yourself.
According to Wildman Steve Brill (click on “plants” and scroll down to “ramps” to see detailed info), ramps thrive in “partially shaded, moist, rich woodlands” where the colonies form ground cover. They range from the Great Lakes to New England and south to Georgia. The bulbs are smallest in the early spring, when the plant gets its nutrition from the sun via the leaves, but once the leaves die off in late spring, the bulbs continue to grow through summer and into fall. I find mine at Holbrook Farm, for $2/bunch, and eagerly await the coming of April, and ramp season, every year. If you do manage to spot some in the woods, break a leaf (or dig for the bulb) and make sure it smells of onions; the leaves of the poisonous lily of the valley plant look similar, but do not smell like onion (in fact, nothing that smells like onion is poisonous). If you go foraging, be sure to collect only 50% (or less) of each cluster, leaving some to mature and proliferate for next year. Make a note of the exact location, so you can find the ramps again next year.
Once you’ve found your ramps, what to do with them? Ramps are a very versatile vegetable. In the early spring, when the bulbs are still quite small, I like to eat them raw, washed well and greens & bulbs chopped into green salad. Check out Preppy Spring Salad, Easy Breezy Peasy Salad, or Radish Quinoa Salad. The greens are spicy & tender and would work well in chard or arugula recipes, like Mini Swiss Chard Quiche, Spring Green Veggie Pasta or Arugula Mustard. Later in the Spring, when the bulbs get a little bigger, they are excellent in place of scallion or shallots, in sautés or stir-frys like Chickpea Stir-Fry or Chicken, Radish & Green Garlic. Ramps are delicious with eggs, whether scrambled, in an omelet or frittata; some raw milk cheddar and ramps would make one fabulous scone.
For ramp-specific recipes, see Chickpea & Spring Green Salad and Ramp & Cilantro Pesto. One of my favorite recipes of the year was Chicken Braised in White Wine and Ramps: a show stopper. See also a ramp recipe round-up over at Simply Recipes, including three from Hank of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.
The Spring ramp season is short; to preserve your bounty for the coming months, blanche & freeze the leaves as you would chard or kale, or make pesto, infused oil or vinegar as you would with fresh herbs. Dry chopped bulbs and leaves in a dehydrator or low oven, or use in pickles, chutneys, or confit. For a host of allium preserving recipe ideas, review the offerings at Tigress’ March Can Jam round-up, or check out Well Preserved’s fascinating dehydrated ramp roots.
However you eat them, don’t miss ramp season: April only comes ’round once a year and ramps are the highlight of the month.
I so want to try ramps, hopefully I can find someone around here to help me know what to look for.
Yes, ramps are in full swing here in NYC. I got to the Greenmarket too late this past weekend unfortunately; my vendor was all sold out.
They do take some getting used to — I find slow cooking tames the wildness quite a bit — once you taste them in all their glory, you’ll be a fan forever.
You are so good. I am so impressed at your incredibly informative post, jam-packed with stats and links to recipes. I wish I were so thorough. And, I wish I have seen some ramps! Not yet, says I. Though I am looking on all of my walks through dark, wet forests. Every day I think I may spot one, but alas! No such luck.
I haven’t found a local (foraged) source either, even though “shady, moist, deciduous” basically describes my backyard. I’m luck that Holbrook Farm forages them from the edges of their land.. and sells ’em cheap! I keep looking though…
Just got my first ramps of the season at Wild Hives in Clinton Corners ~ $3/bag. YUM!
Just found some ramps at Russos outside Boston – we are excited for dinner tonight!
Sweet! I am hoping there are still some around when I get back from Asheville. Enjoy…
Great post. I actually made ramp confit a few days ago, along with ramp butter and various ramp vinegars. A true favorite of mine!!
the dehydrated ramp roots in our recipe above are some of the very best of things I make period.
When we are fortunate enough to meet up with professional chefs of the highest order, our kitchen gift (when we have them) are these roots. They are simply the most treasured item that comes our of my kitchen.
They are awesome with fish (especially raw), soup, and old cheese. Raw fish is my fave. It’s sad to me how much of this amazing product gets tossed – can’t reccomend it enough. 🙂
I don’t think I saw that post last year; I’ll have to search even harder for foraged ramps this season, because the ones at the market never have much in the way of roots. Would love to try this out!
They’re available in the city at Union Square Greenmarket or at Eataly.
I spoke to Rick (of Mountain Sweet Berry) last weekend. He sold out around 9:30 am, so that means that if I want to have a shot, I have to drag myself out of bed early in the morning.
Last year, they were more widely available. I suspect that won’t be true this year, in part because of the freaky winter weather. Yesterday had a low of 44 with a high of 51 — in April.
If anyone is looking to buy fresh, foraged ramps, please let me know. We harvest pounds and pounds at all stages of growth in the spring.
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Great post. Thanks for sharing. Please reconsider the recommended percentage of amount harvested. That’s a considerable amount to take, and not enough to leave for animals, repopulation, and potentially other foragers.
A good philosophy I’ve found is a 1/3 for the animals, a 1/3 for the plant and earth, and no more than a 1/3 for people.
Also, consider the population of the plant there too, if there’s only 10 plants, maybe don’t harvested any. Anyway, keep in mind that folks might come along behind you, and take 1/2 of what’s there, and now your half is only a 1/4, and so on. Hopefully they would see that someone has already foraged, and find another spot to harvest.
Peace to you, happy foraging
Ramps are in plenty of abundance! Literally millions upon millions upon millions in the woods. It is virtually impossible for us to pick so many that they become extinct. Seriously, have you seen the woods in southeast Ohio alone? They spread for literally miles and miles and miles. You could walk for hours over/around them. More likely to be destroyed by chemicals, building, etc. rather than picking! If you leave one it will multiply to many in one season!
It is a newer fad, but honestly they have been picked as far back as settlers came to this country, and native Americans also enjoyed….
I personally have been pulling them for 50 years, in the same location, and tree are more now than when I was 10!
“impossible for us to pick so many that they become extinct” Isn’t that what the hunters said about “harvesting” passenger pigeons? And isn’t that what the loggers said about the old growth northern forests? And what the fishers said about the cod along the NE USA?
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