Sunday, June 1, 2014

Foraging and Preserving Ramps

There is such a wonderful feeling that comes with finding your own food out in the "wild". It is like you are so lucky to find this tasty treat out in the wilderness just waiting for you. I was not brought up foraging but I have quickly learned to love it. It brings together many things I love: frugality, nature and spending time with my family. Just recently our family had a great time foraging for ramps and here are a few tips to help guide your efforts.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) go by the name ramsons, wild garlic, wild leeks or spring leeks and have become widely popular in the last few years. They have a wonderful flavor combination of garlic and onion. These plants offer a wide variety of uses from the bulbs to leaves.

Ramps have 1 to 2 broad, smooth, light green leaves that progress into deep purple or burgundy coloring down the stems into the white bulbs. The bulbs are similar to scallions or green onions. The bulbs are rooted in the dirt, just below the surface of the earth. If you are still not sure if you found a ramp, just rip into the leave and take a whiff. You should notice a strong onion scent.

Be warned that the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) can have a similar appearance and are poisonous. But the leaf of the lily of the valley does not smell of onions. Lily of the valley also has small white bell shaped flowers.

With the popularity of ramps, they are getting harder and harder to find. Here are a few ways you can get your harvest on and still keep the ramps growing for years to come too. You should only harvest a portion of any items you find foraging and only take what you will use. This will keep this plant growing in your favorite location year after year. You can also leave the roots behind by cutting the roots off of the bulb.

Ramps are very versatile. The bulbs and leaves can be used just like you would onions, green onions, chives and garlic. But the effects are much more flavorful.

After you have harvested the ramps, you should wash them in cold water, rinsing well. Lay them out to dry. Cut off the roots from the end of the bulb. (Tip: Save the rooty ends and plant them in a shady location within your yard for your own sustainable crop.)

Next, separate the white part from the green leaves. Slice up the white portion into sections for use in whatever recipe you choose. The green leaves can be chopped and added to a salad or even puréed into pesto. 

For long term storage:
The white portion of the ramp can be stored in a freezer, in a plastic storage bag for months. This portion can also be pickled. Or the entire harvest can be kept in the refrigerator for a week or so. The green portion does not freeze well, so use when freshly harvested.