Ramps, Nature's Smelly Gift

The best addition to every dish!

So I have been so excited about this post, it was hard to put my thoughts together. I just discovered these last year by chance, and this year will be the first year I will be attempting to collect them myself. Ok, Michel, so what’s the big deal? Well, Ramps! Also known as the Spring Onion, Rampson, Wild Leek, Wood Leek or Wild Garlic, they are one of the best things I have ever had, and I am counting down the days until they start to grow!

I happened upon them last year by accident. I went to the Annual Scott's Farm Strawberry Festival in Erwin, TN with a couple of friends. They had heard about a “Ramp Festival” in Flag Pond, TN that was also going on, and since it wasn’t too far from where we were, we thought we would go check it out. I sure am glad that we did! It was a little hole in the wall festival, but worth every weird look we got (since we weren’t local, and it was more of a church social than a festival). Oh, and if you like down-home cooking and great bluegrass music, its great. I'll be doing a post later this year when we go!

Growing in clusters in the woods.
When you first see a ramp, you think “Ok, it’s a wild onion, big deal.” Oh no! It’s so much more than that. I’m up for trying new foods, but I was a little nervous about this one. It looks a lot like a wild onion, but one whiff of it and you will see that its not! On smell alone, they smell like a batch of dill pickles. Really, really strong dill pickles. Then you bite into it. It’s like a mix of garlic, onion, and hot pepper all in one. It’s a bit too much for me to eat raw, but when cooked in food, it’s amazing. It adds all of those flavors to your food, but in a wonderful subtle way.
Ok, ok, enough with the foodie talk. You know the best part about them? They can be found right in your backyard! They start popping up the same time as morels and fiddleheads. Ramps (Allium tricoccum), have leaves very similar to a Day Lily, but you can tell right away by the purple base that gradually turns white at the bottom. And once you dig them up, the smell alone will give them away. They tend to grow in really large clusters near rivers and streams. These, like the morels and fiddleheads have a VERY short season of about 3 weeks. They grow all along the Northeastern United States (from Canada to Georgia). Another great thing about them? You can eat the leaves too! They tend to cook up a lot like spinach, and you can prepare them that way. Nothing better than gathering something you can use every part of!

All wonderfulness aside, there is a downside to ramps (gasp!), don’t worry, its something that can be managed. Because, in recent years, the demand for ramps has been so high, they are being severely over harvested. In fact, in the Smokey Mountain National Park, it is illegal to harvest them, because their numbers have been so depleted.  Ramps (unlike mushrooms) don’t just show up year after year once you pick them. They can take up to 7 years to cultivate! Harvesting ramps has been done for hundreds of years, and was a favorite among Native Americans in this area. They believed ramps had a healing power and were added to food and drink to heal the body. In fact, they do have a 'healing' power, as they are extremely rich in vitamins and minerals. 
Remove carefully, just above the root!
They had a very good way to be sure they got the plant, but also assured that it would regrow the next year. When you dig, dig carefully, with a small trowel, or your knife. Take the knife and cut just above the roots, making sure to leave the root base in the dirt. This way, it can regrow. Also, don’t be too greedy! Take only about 10-20% of the ramps you find. This way, we can be sure to have ramps for many years to come! Also, don't harvest too early. Its hard to be patient sometimes, but if you get over eager, it will be the last time you will have these beauties around. Let them grow fully, and then pick. I know I am personally looking the most forward to these this year (they also can go great with sautéed morels!), and what I don’t harvest, you can bet that I will be buying a bushel of these at the festival and farmers market.
Until next time, Happy Hunting!


Notice the brown covering and thick stalks
I debated about writing about these yet. 1. Because this will be the first year I will be looking for them myself. 2. I wanted to wait until I actually was out looking.
But I decided that since it seems we may have an early spring on our hands this year, I would go ahead and post, so that you could start looking too!
So, whats on today's menu? Fiddleheads! "What on earth is a fiddlehead?", you may ask. Well, even without looking you may have seen them if you have been out hiking during early Spring. A fiddlehead is the beginning of a newly sprouting fern. They get the name because they look like the heads of fiddles. There is only one type of edible fiddlehead, which comes from the Ostrich fern. Actually, all ferns have toxins in them, but this specific one has the least, and is very much edible. Make sure if you are out hunting you know exactly what you are looking for, because the rest are toxic. No ferns are deadly, but you will probably get something that can be compared to food poisoning, and let's face it, no one wants that.
Luckily, fiddleheads have two distinct features. A brown, papery covering will be on the ostrich ferns, which when you start to prepare to cook, must be completely washed off. They also have a deep "U" shape down the stalk, which is a dead giveaway. They tend to cluster in groups near rivers and streams. Fiddleheads can only be found in the Northeastern United States, and only for a few weeks at the beginning of Spring. Good news though! They come up the same time morels do!
Again, this will be the first year I have looked for them, and may come up empty handed. If I do find some, I will be sharing some recipes for them. They have been described as a green bean, mixed with asparagus, and nice and crispy. They can be used raw in salads, but I'm not really sure if I would. If you don't want to look yourself too, you may be able to find them in season at a farmer's market or a specialty food store, but what's the fun in that??
So, until next time...Happy Hunting!