Ramps (or wild leeks as they’re also known), are a wild-growing member of the onion family that have become one of America’s most popular “rediscovered” folk foods. Of course, ramps have never really been forgotten or gone out of style in their heartland, a broad swath of eastern North America stretching from southern Appalachia, west to the Great Lakes region and north into southern Canada.
Spring is the season for ramps, beginning in mid-March in their southern range and ending in late May or early June in the north. Ramps grow in stages throughout their annual cycle, first appearing as pencil-thin shoots with tender, but pungent greens and a slender bulb. As the season progresses, the bulbs and stalks grow larger and the leaves broader and tougher. Finally, the leaves begin to wither and yellow as the plants transition from vegetative growth to the vital task of storing energy for the next season.
But that doesn’t mean that the ramp harvest is finished. Far from it, as unseen beneath the ground, the bulbs continue to swell and grow plump. It’s at this stage that the frequently thumb-sized ramp bulbs are at their best. Once ramp bulbs have been gently lifted from the soil, they’re ready for a variety of purposes. Fresh, they can be used like onions, shallots or garlic, lending their magical, wild flavor to nearly any preparation.
One of our favorite ways to use ramp bulbs is to pickle them. Pickling is a simple method for preserving ramp bulbs for later use, weeks or even months after the harvest has ended, but most importantly, it creates a tangy and piquant delicacy that’s easy to enjoy. Whether eaten straight from the jar, or sliced, chopped or pureed into relishes, dips, dressings and marinades, pickled ramps can bring a wild twist to any dish. Serve them on a cheese and charcuterie platter, slice them onto sandwiches, chop them into tartar sauce; wherever they’re used, the surprising flavor of pickled ramp bulbs will raise eyebrows and produce happy smiles.
An important note about the harvesting of ramps:
Like other members of the allium family, ramps reproduce both by seed and by division, doubling the chances for the continued survival of the species. But both seeds and bulbs reproduce slowly and ramp patches may take years to grow to harvestable levels. That’s why it’s so important to practice responsible foraging techniques, including never harvesting more than 10% from any ramp patch in a single season.
Pickled Ramp (Wild Leek) Bulbs
- 1 cup white wine or apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp mustard seed
- 1 tsp coriander seed
- 1 tsp fennel seed
- 2 tsp mixed peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 pound fresh or frozen (defrosted) ramp/wild leek bulbs
Trim the root tip, if present, from the ramp bulbs. Rinse well and set aside.
Mix all ingredients except the ramp bulbs together in a pan and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add the ramp bulbs and return to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until the bulbs are just barely cooked. Pack the bulbs into jars or other containers and top up with hot pickling liquid to cover. Close tightly and set aside to cool. Refrigerate up to two months.
For longer storage, pack into sterilized jars, top with sterilized lids and process in a hot water bath for 30 minutes. For more detailed information on safe canning procedures, see the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.
Tip: strain any left over pickling liquid and keep refrigerated. Use in marinades and vinaigrettes for a sweet/sour spike of wild ramp-infused flavor.
Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of wild-foraged and hard-to-find ingredients.
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