Ramped Up

7 May

There is no surer sign that Spring has returned than the reappearance of ramps.

In years past, I was a part of the ravening hoard of ramp “hunters” at the Union Square greenmarket, marching from booth to booth until a waft of earthy, oniony air would hit my nose and stop me in my tracks.  But for some reason, this year, I had lost all enthusiasm for them.  They just didn’t seem special anymore.

Then on Saturday when I called my mom to make plans for our dinner at Local 111, she asked “Do you think they’ll have ramps?”  I said I thought they would. And they did; in a spring onion soup, alongside low-poached swordfish, and accompanying a local steak.

The soup was delicious, light and pleasant in a way that’s hard to do.  It wasn’t too “green”, as if it had been overloaded with spinach, nor was it too bitter, as can happen when you add too many raw alliums.  It was perfect topped by lumps of sweet, briny crab.  The encapsulation of Spring in a bowl.

And then there was the side of pickled ramps my mom ordered.  Tinted ever so slightly daffodil-yellow by turmeric, they were piquant in the most pleasant way.  Ramp-mania had indeed returned!

The next day, Isaac and I suited up (Boots? Check! Bug spray? Check!) and headed into the woods. I had asked my mom what terrain ramps like best and she said in a rather dejected way, “On a slope heading down to a creek.”  I still have no idea why she sounded so defeated when she said that, because she described the woods behind our house to a tee!

Almost immediately Isaac found a clump.  He tried pulling them up, but the leaves snapped off at the neck.  So he headed back to the house to grab a trowel while I kept looking.  And then we lost the initial clump. But no matter, I knew they were near an old Genny Cream Ale bottle; find the bottle and you find the ramps.

After more than an hour of tramping about, probably scaring our neighbors to death with all the twig snapping and sad sighing, and being attacked by what I’m sure was about a thousand invisible ticks, we had only found one other stand of ramps, a dozen in total.  It wasn’t the epic haul we had both been expecting, but no matter, it was enough to pickle.

So we headed home.  And then, there, on the very edge of our very own backyard, was the most glorious sight.  Hundreds and hundreds of ramps!  I called my mom, so excited, “Are you sure they’re not lilies of the valley Annie?” “Of course they’re not! Isaac tasted them! He said they tasted oniony!”  And then I hung up and turned to Isaac, “You did taste them, right?” “Uhhhh…”

So I went back out into the yard and ripped off a leaf.  Nope.  No oniony aroma.  And then I looked closer, and yeah, there they were.  Nascent bells.  They were lilies of the valley.  Silly allium family, all looking alike and stuff.  Thank god Isaac didn’t take a big bite though.  Apparently lilies of the valley are at least mildly toxic.

So back to the ramps at hand.  Isaac washed them and then I cut them up and popped them into a brine.  What, you expected me to do something with them other than pickling?  I didn’t follow a recipe, just used a little of this and a little of that–some white vinegar, rice vinegar and sherry vinegar–a chili pepper–some celery seeds, dehydrated lemon peel and a few caraway seeds–a sprig of fresh dill and a snip of lemon thyme–sugar and salt–a bit of water.

We each tried a bit of leaf on Monday night and they were already sublime.  Garlicky and oniony but mellow and spicy.  I think by this evening they’ll be even better.  Maybe we’ll have them for dinner on top of a piece of bread spread with fresh goat cheese.  Or better yet, maybe we’ll just eat them plain.

I suspect that we were maybe a week early in our foraging foray, so this weekend, when I’m back upstate alone (Isaac will be out West visiting his family) I’ll go looking again.  But where?  Now, you don’t really expect me to tell you that now, do you?  That’s a secret I wouldn’t even share with my own mother.

But I will give her a few pickled ones.  It is Mother’s Day after all.

5 Responses to “Ramped Up”

  1. Christina May 8, 2009 at 7:04 pm #

    It cracks me up that you told her that Isaac had tasted the ramps even though he hadn’t. I know that feeling–wanting something to be true so badly.

    A very fun read. The ramp pickles sound delicious.

  2. winteridge May 12, 2009 at 7:57 am #

    I remember these as a boy growing up on Tug Hill. We always knew them as “leeks” or wild leeks. A true sign of Spring. They make a great soup, greens, or eat them raw like scallions. Not too good for one’s social life after, though. In the South, I hear, they have Ramp Festivals. Nice blog.

  3. Jennifer Hess May 12, 2009 at 11:53 am #

    Your posts always make me smile! :D I pickled a batch of ramps before our recent trip to visit my family (using Tom Colicchio’s recipe), and I haven’t tried them yet. Tonight, I think.

  4. ann May 14, 2009 at 5:58 am #

    Christina — I swear he had told me he had tasted them before I told my mom he had. So funny. And the best part of all this? I forgot to bring the ramps upstate with me when I went up for Mother’s day. I’m such a stinker of a daughter sometimes :-)

    Winteridge — Hi! Thanks for stopping by. In doing some research about ramps Isaac found listings of all the ramp festivals. They sound like so much fun! My friend makes a ramp pesto that just sounds so delicious. I’m considering trying that this weekend. My mom loved vacations on the Tug Hill when she was young, but I don’t think I’ve ever been. I’ll have to make a note of it.

    Jenn — Thanks! It’s nice to hear I make you smile! I can’t wait to hear how your ramp pickles go!

  5. Lisa May 14, 2009 at 9:38 am #

    I need a country home! But for now, I’ll settle for the farmers market.

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