Ramps: these wild leeks will ramp up your spring menu
Ramps, aka wild leeks, are part of what we call the Spring Trilogy.
The other two members are Morel Mushrooms and Fiddlehead Ferns, and are one of the most eagerly anticipated spring items. Also called spring onions, ramson, wild leeks, and even wild garlic, Ramps have a pungent aroma that mellows out once they’re cooked.
Long prized as an abundant and sustainable food source in Appalachia, the ramp harvest is become threatened as a result of their popularity. The harvest signaled the end of the long and cold winter months, providing a welcome and much needed tonic. However, the Native American people were using these wild leeks much earlier, believing they were a medicinal tonic, providing a method for cleansing blood.
In fact, the Native American word chicagoua, which is where the name of Chicago was derived, is believed to refer to ramps.
The harvest usually begins in late March/early April, with the tell-tale sign being the hearty wild leek leaves bursting through the soil in woodland areas. The season starts off with very thin stems and leaves, and as the short season progresses, they become thicker and the leaves can be quite large.
The leaves are delicate and they can become creased, folded, or wrinkled during packing. Since they are most often used cooked, it is not an issue and just something accepted with this delicate item, much like mulberries are always wet upon arrival. While related to leeks, the flavor of ramps is a bit more pungent, but never overpowering.
How do you use ramps?
They do have a pungent aroma that mellows once cooked. Ramps are versatile, their flavor carries though most any preparation. Try them in a quiche, sauteed on their own or in a soup. They have a complex chive, onion, leek, or garlic-like taste, and can be used as such. The greens make a wonderful pesto–try it with a little Romano cheese, and toss it with your pasta. The greens can also be used like large chives or green onions. The bulbs are onion-y, peppery, and wonderful pickled. They will add a nice brightness to any of your springtime dishes.
Just a word of warning
The are a wild forged item, and will arrive to you dirty. A quick rinse, and you are back in business. Again, this is something you accept of this spring item.
Their popularity may be an issue…
Ramps have become increasingly popular, so much so, that there are now some concerns as to the viability of the wild crop. Ramps mostly grow from rhizomes, though they can grow from seeds, so the harvest often times kills the vibrant and long standing growing area. This damage can take decades to repair, but there is a movement afoot to grow ramps commercial under somewhat controlled conditions, as well as some strict oversight by governing agencies.
Dan talks about ramps
Ramps are generally available from mid-to-late March, into April with their greens, then sometimes just as bulbs as their season wanes. They are highly perishable and may require a pre-order. Ramp up your spring menu and Contact your Marketing Associate about adding some to your next order. If you are not a customer, find out how to become one today!
Content provided by Chef Daniel Snowden, the Director of Culinary Development for FreshPoint Central Florida. He has been in the produce industry years almost 20 years and loves getting geeky about food. Follow FreshPoint Central Florida on Facebook and Instagram.
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