Ramps, also known as wild garlic, are one of the most prized foraged foods. In Quebec, they’re somewhat of an obsession. As a result, the plant has spent the last 20 years on the vulnerable species list, a fact that makes harvesting more than 50 bulbs illegal in that province. But there’s gold in them thar hills so the Outaouais is a stronghold for commercial harvesting. It’s common to see piles of ramp leaves in Gatineau Park, a sure sign that a furtive soul has made off with a whack of bulbs. Rural landowners also often come upon nefarious sorts engaged in large scale harvesting. The ramps can then be smuggled across the river into Ottawa where they’re sold as (legal) Ontario ramps.
Ottawa’s proximity to Quebec and the current mania for all things local, foraged and quirky make for a perfect garlic-scented storm. Ramps are the new kale. Well maybe not yet but they’re getting there. Early adopters – you better get on to this or you’ll find yourself part of the majority or maybe even (gasp!) the laggards. I, myself, could be considered an innovator since I’ve been picking ramps for years already. Either that or a weird middle-aged woman tramping through the maple forest with a plastic Giant Tiger bag. Innovator it is, then!
Ramps are easy to spot and to pick. They are one of the first plants to emerge in the spring and have distinctive rabbit-ear leaves. A mere tug and the bulbs are torn from the earth. Selling at $15/pound wholesale, there’s a lucrative, if short-lived market in ramps. Short-lived because the season lasts mere days, but also because over-harvesting results in fewer and fewer ramps each year. Foragers would do well to pick in a manner that ensures regeneration or Ontario will find itself with a species as vulnerable as the one in Quebec. Even though ramps are easy pickin’, first time foragers should venture out with someone experienced in ethical harvesting. A few simple tips will ensure the future health of the plant population. Whether you decide to try your hand at ramp picking or whether you prefer to get some at the farmer’s market, here are a couple of garlicky recipes to try. Delicious but probably not the best for date night!
Maple-Pickled Ramp Bulbs
Large bunch of ramps
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
¾ cup water
2 tsp Kosher salt
¼ cup white vinegar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
Remove ramp leaves, keeping just the bulbs and pinkish stems. Reserve leaves for following recipe. Slice the root end off the ramps and wash the bulbs well. Place bay leaves, coriander seeds, peppercorns and fennel seeds in a small Mason jar. Pack jar tightly with the ramp bulbs. Mix together water and salt in a small saucepan. Heat until the salt dissolves. Allow the mixture to cool. Add in vinegar and maple syrup. Pour the vinegar mixture over the ramps in the jar. Cover and refrigerate for two days before eating. These pickles will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge.
Ramp Compound Butter
Large bunch of clean ramp leaves, finely chopped
1 pound of unsalted butter, softened
Zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Good quality sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together and form into a log. Roll log up in wax paper and place in a freezer bag. Store in the freezer. A slice of ramp compound butter is delicious on a piece of fish, steak or tossed into pasta.
She Who Must Be Obeyed (but rarely is) blogs about the adventures of her family of seven at travellargefamily.