Spring Ramps

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Ramps, aka wild leeks, are a wild North American onion-like plant that pop up in forested areas in early-mid spring. The season for ramps is short, typically no more than a few weeks between April and May depending on your location.

Believe me when I say that they are GOOD. Ramps resemble scallions except that the leaves are large and flat at the top rather than tubular. I’d describe the taste as an earthy onion or leek with the flavor of tender young garlic dominating. The garlic smell is strong with this one — our entire apartment reeks of it when we’re preparing them as does anyone who consumes them raw.

Ramps are best used in place of leeks or onions. Look for recipes in which either ingredient is the star of the show such as potato and ramp soup, ramp pesto, ramp butter, or ramp pizza. I’m considering this Fiddlehead Ramp Risotto since we currently have both on hand.

If you happen upon a seller at a farmers’ market this weekend I suggest snatching a big bundle up as fast as you can — I arrived too late at my local market last week and missed out completely. This week I made sure to get there early and grabbed up 2 lbs so we would have enough to preserve and enjoy in the coming months. There was no way I was going to go without this year. We concocted a homemade spelt gnocchi with fresh pea and ramp pesto dish last spring that quickly became our favourite way to use them up. And then we each gained 10 lbs. I’ve been salivating over day dreams of that dish for an entire year. Of course I did not write it down as I made it, but will write it up here when I’ve got it figured out, again.

Preserving Ramps

There are lots of ways to preserve ramps, from canning to pickling to kimchi, but I prefer freezing. The leaves turn mushy and a little bit gross after freezing but the bulbs are fine. To get around the problem, I freeze the bulbs whole but turn the leaves into pesto.

  1. Slice off the roots and discard. Chop the bulb off and separate from the green leaves.
  2. Wash and dry the bulbs and freeze them whole, packed into freezable containers or baggies.
  3. Loosely chop the remaining green leaves and wash. Dry them thoroughly using a salad spinner or a towel.
  4. Finely chop the leaves in a food processor with a dash of salt and a few splashes of olive oil (about 3-4 cups leaves to a 1/2 cup of oil). The goal is to create a moist, spreadable paste. It shouldn’t be dripping, but it shouldn’t be dry either.
  5. You can add cheese and nuts to make a true pesto paste but I prefer to leave mine plain to keep it flexible for all sorts of uses.
  6. Pack into small baggies or small freezable containers and freeze. You can also portion it out by freezing in ice cube trays and later popping them into long term storage containers once they’ve formed into hardened cubes.

Cook small amounts of the bulbs and leaves together, or use separately as you see fit. The leaves tend to have a milder flavour than the bulbs, but are less flexible because of the added olive oil.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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16 thoughts on “Spring Ramps

  1. So glad you wrote this post!

    I bought 2 lbs this week too, and am running out of ways to use them creatively already. We preserved a few pounds a few weeks ago and have been using the rest for making spring tarts and potstickers so far.

    Thanks!

  2. Hey Gayla – do you have any pics of what they look like in the wild before you pick them? I will search around too or course! Thanks and love your book. I have a garden book for kids – well a picture book about a garden out in stores now.. and will be doing a little session at TOTSTOCK in toronto on June 21…

  3. Your post has my mouth watering! Thanks for the excellent suggestion on preservation. I had avoided the freezer because of the mushiness but the pesto certainly will solve that problem. I can’t wait to pick up some more this weekend.

  4. these remind me of eastern ontario! we always bought them pickled in white vinegar at roadside stands as “wild garlic” – not fancy, but so delish and amazing with greasy thick E.O. pizza!

  5. Growing up in WV, I attended many a ramp dinner as a fundraiser at firehalls. As a kid, I wouldn’t go near them. My family, and everyone else’s loved them. I have clear memories of the smell which is what scared me away I guess. I’ve actually never tried them. I’ll have to do so!

  6. This Newbie has never heard of Ramps! LOL

    As a Garlic and Onion lover though, I’m sure that I would enjoy them.

  7. They do sound delicious.

    Just some info about picking ramps which might be of interest to nature lovers, from The Globe and Mail:

    “When you pick a ramp, you take the entire plant, including the bulb. Once the bulb is gone, there is nothing left of the plant; it will not grow back the next year. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority considers it to be “a species of conservation concern.” And eating a nice sized bulb could be the equivalent of dining on an old-growth cedar. “It’s a really, really, slow-growth plant. A bulb could be 18 to 20 years old,” Mr. Le Gal says.

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090520.wxlwild20art1829/BNStory/lifeFoodWine/?page=rss&id=RTGAM.20090520.wxlwild20art1829

  8. Ymmm Ymmm Ramps

    We’ve been picking them up where i live (about 3 hours north of Toronto) for the past 2 weeks. Went out yesterday at about 6:30 am to beat the bugs and got 3 more bags full. We’ve been doing a little bit of ramp pickling, damn, I’d certainly recommend that.

    As far as where to find them, they seem to prefer south facing slopes of hardwood forests. To add to what a few people have said, if you are harvesting them, you certainly should take only a few from a single area, leaving the majority of the plants so that it will continue to grow and if you are buying from a market find out how that person is harvesting them.

    Wildly

    Ranch Hand

  9. I have to second the comments of Rachelle, Elisa D and Ranch Hand. Ramps seem to really have hit ‘main stream’ this year, especially as more people start to think more seriously about local foods and diets. I would hate to see wild ramps wiped out due to over-picking. Asking about the picking practices of your vendor at the market is always a good thing.

  10. Okay so as stupid as this question might sound, I’m not completely sure where to cut them to cut the leaves off. Is it where the red part meets the white? Or do you cut them halfway up the single red part?

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