Edible Outdoors: Ramps!
What are ramps? No, I’m not talking about those pieces of wood that you use to get your four wheeler on and off your truck. I’m talking about Allium tricoccum or commonly called ramps, wild leeks or spring onion. Ramps have a pungent, onion, garlicky flavor similar to a scallion and are found to grow in the higher elevations of the United States and Canada.
Springtime in Vermont be cause for celebration! Especially after a long, cold, harsh winter. The sight of green popping up in the landscape is a welcomed sight and cause to frolic for some (Ok, maybe just me). Just as those muddy trails are drying up, the green starts popping up and since ramps are one of the first to arrive, they are pretty easy to spot. The bright green is a clear contrast to the brown forest floor. Here in the Deerfield Valley of Southern Vermont, ramps usually can be found sometime between mid-April and mid-May. Down in the lower elevations of Southern Vermont such as Brattleboro or Bennington, they tend to be ahead of us by two weeks for everything during our short growing season.
You might be wondering ‘where exactly can I find these things?’. Well, I can tell you that foragers just like miners or trappers or fishermen have their favorite “spots”. You may have better luck spotting Big Foot in the Bennington Triangle than getting them to share the location of these coveted “spots” with you. However, I will tell you that ramps are the perfect place to start for even the greenest of foragers. With leaves looking similar to that of a tulip or daffodil, they usually grow in clumps of 4-6 leaves. It’s also good to know that ramps love company and when you find one bunch, you can be sure to find many more growing around them. Don’t be afraid to go ahead and pick a leaf that you suspect to be a ramp. The best way to identify them is by smelling them. One of my favorite places to find them is on the portion of the Catamount Trail that goes from Route 9 to the Dam at Lake Whitingham. It’s an old railway, so it’s very flat. Great for biking, but don’t forget your basket so you can collect your ramps along the way! On your way to the trail,
stop at the Chamber of Commerce in Wilmington. They have a large selection of area trail maps or visit their website and download the maps straight to your phone. Not ready to break out those hiking shoes? Never fear, ramps can easily be found along many of our roadways. If you are going to take this route (pun intended), I would suggest staying away from main roads. Ramps along heavily travelled roads can be chock full of nasty pollutants and for safety sake, be safe. Always obey all traffic laws. Perhaps enlist the help of a friend to help in the search.
Ramps may be rampant in these parts but there numbers are declining due to overharvesting. These wild plants take four years to flower and reproduce so ethical harvesting is key. I cannot express this enough!
Here’s the rule of thumb: For every patch of ramps you find, only pick 10%. So, for every 10 leaves, pick 1! I guarantee you will still find yourself with all the ramps you can handle. The other VERY important part is picking JUST the leaf. Yes, the bulbs are a powerhouse of fresh onion and garlicky goodness but the leaves will definitely get the job done and you’ll be able to sleep at night knowing that you have now found your very own ramp “spot” and it will still be there for years to come.
Ramps are a staple in mine and my family’s diet during the month of May. Whether, fresh, dried, pickled, blanched or sauteed, I will toss them into pretty much anything. Except ice cream...definitely not ice cream (although, I have had garlic ice cream at the Southern Vermont Garlic & Herb Festival and it was surprisingly delicious). Here is my favorite ways to enjoy ramps:
Makes approximately 1 ½ cups
? 3 oz. of clean ramp leaves
? ½ cup organic extra virgin olive oil
? ½ cup organic salted sunflower seeds
? ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
? 1-2 tbs. Lemon juice (to taste)
Put all ingredients except for olive oil into food processor and blend until a paste forms. Add olive oil and pulse just until fully blended.
*Note: Raw ramp leaves are VERY pungent. If you wish to tone down your pesto for fear of dragon’s breath try blanching some or all of the leaves.
Ramp pesto can be enjoyed with cracker, on eggs, in pasta, or with chicken. Let your imagination run wild!
*Tip: Pesto can be frozen in ice cube trays and saved for year round enjoyment. There’s nothing like the fresh taste of Spring in the middle of winter!
Michele Mazur lives and works in Southern Vermont's Deerfield Valley. She is the owner and crafter of the award-winning Trinty Botanicals .
This blog series was made possible by funding from the Town of Dover & Wilmington 1% Economic Development Funds.