Keith D. – Director of F&B (and Forager Extraordinaire)
I first came upon wild ramps when I lived in the mountains near Bradford Pennsylvania, in a small town called Smethport. In the early spring, you can drive down the street and see signs posted for “Ham and Leek Dinner” fundraisers for the local fire halls and churches. Being new to the area, I asked my friends about this and they seemed shocked I have never heard of such dinners. Up in the mountains, the people are much more connected to the outdoors so foraging comes naturally and is passed down to the next generation.
As I looked further into what these leeks were, I found they were actually wild ramps. In the mountains, they are picked much younger that what you can find in the specialty markets today. Even when all of the snow has not melted, my friends go out to known areas and look for small green buds poking out from the ground. They pick a large basket and then take them home, clean them, and process them in different ways. When picked this young, the ramps are only about 2 inches long, and are much stronger/potent that when mature. The taste is something like strong garlic & onion, and is actually hot like horseradish. When consumed raw, the oils are secreted through the skin similar to garlic, and can actually give off an odor that is only unique to ramps.
Ramps for sale at a popular store.
Ramps that I foraged.
For my purpose, I pick them just as they develop their leaves, which look similar to broad tulip leaves but not as firm. With leeks being one of the first things one forages for in the spring, they can be easy to spot (just like chives) since they are one of the few early green leaves to sprout.
RAMPS (Allium tricoccum), or wild leeks, usually occur at higher elevations in eastern North America in the mountains from Georgia to Canada, where foraging for them is a popular activity throughout this range. They are widely celebrated by thousands of ramp lovers who attend ramp festivals each spring. As with anything you forage, you need to be sure you pick and identify the correct plant. The deadly lily-of-the-valley looks very similar to a ramp, but does not have the pungent garlic/onion odor.
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