Some people know them as Ramps, while others call them Leeks or Wild Leeks. I grew up calling them leeks, but now that I'm an adult, it is confusing because these are very different from the leeks you buy in the grocery store! Wild leeks have a short season, but the flavor is so good that I look forward to cooking with them every Spring!
Ramps look like a wide-leaf scallion, but they taste like a combination of onion and garlic. Both the white 'onion' end and the green tops are edible. Just like scallions, the bulb is stronger in flavor than the leaves. The flavor is known to stick with you even more so than onion and garlic. If you decide to eat ramps, make sure everyone in your household eats them. :-)
Where Do Ramps Grow?
Ramps grow in deciduous forests in Eastern North America. They need the rich soil that occurs when autumn leaves naturally compost into the soil year after year. Whenever I have found ramps in the woods, it is always on a hill facing South/South-East. As soon as the snow melts, ramps start popping up.
We are lucky to own property perfect for ramps. Did we plant these? No. They are indeed wild. And, year after year, we get more. Ramps are very slow growing. You can purchase seeds, but it will likely be a few years before you have enough to harvest. I do know someone that simply threw the roots from cleaned ramps into their woods and had a small patch begin to grow the following year.
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This is what the ramps look like in our woods:
Ramp Season & Harvesting
The ramp season is short! We typically can harvest ramps from mid-April to late May. During that time, I put them in every meal I can! I also freeze them to use later in the year (simply clean them, blanch them, dry them off a little, and place them in freezer bags).
As I mentioned earlier, ramps are slow growing. A patch of ramps spreads by reseeding itself and a patch spreads slowly. It is important to keep this in mind when harvesting. If you find ramps, be sure to only harvest from a large patch and don't take them all. You must leave a good amount behind to reseed.
We have big patches in our woods, but I still move around and take only a handful from each patch. If I were to take a picture of our woods before and after harvesting, you would never even know we were there.
To harvest, simply use a shovel (or garden fork) and a plastic bag. Use the shovel to loosen up a small section, then pull the ramps up using your hand to remove big chunks of mud or dried leaves and place the whole ramp into the bag.
How to Clean Ramps
Ramps come out of the woods pretty dirty. Since they are harvested in the Spring, the ground is usually muddy and covered in leaves from last autumn. To clean them:
I try to wipe off big chunks of mud and leaves in the woods as I dig them.
Then I set up a bucket of water outside to do a little bit better of a rinse job and I cut off the root end of each ramp before I bring them into my kitchen.
I do a final wash in my kitchen sink and lay them out on a kitchen towel to dry off.
I then wrap them loosely in a few paper towels and put them into a clean grocery bag to store in the refrigerator until I'm ready to use them. You could also place the paper towel bundle into a large zip lock bag.
How to Cook With Ramps
I mentioned earlier that ramps taste like both onion and garlic. Therefore, any recipe that uses onion and/or garlic will taste great with ramps. I love to add them everywhere!
You can simply eat them raw, like chomping down a carrot or scallion. The flavor is strong but oh-so-good!
Finely chop the white and green sections to mix into scrambled eggs, tuna salad, and egg salad.
Finely chop the white part and mix it into mayo for sandwiches.
Chop the green section and add it to a lettuce salad or use it instead of lettuce on a sandwich.
Add chopped ramps (whites and greens) to your favorite spinach-artichoke dip recipe.
Make a Ramp Pesto by using ramps instead of basil and garlic.
Use ramps (whites and greens) along with veggie broth and cannellini beans to make a quick and easy greens and beans soup.
Add them to any dish that would normally use onion and garlic (you can replace the onion and garlic or just add the ramps as additional flavor).
There are so many other ways to use them. I really love just adding them to every savory dish I make!
Have you ever used ramps? What did you think?