Ramps Are Ready to Eat!
I’m already eating a few of my own
fresh vegetables: ramps, dandelion greens and sorrel are ready, and asparagus and rhubarb are up.
It took me nearly 10 years, but I now have a patch of ramps that produces enough of these wild members of the onion family that I don’t have to go hiking to dig up the ramps I need. I sauté both the bulb and the leaves, and find them a great spring treat in eggs or a stir fry.
Ramps in the kitchen
Ramps are often found in areas with
moist soil and filtered sun and shade. They are slow-growing, but I have added
50 or so plants most years for 10 years and the older clumps are ready for
Ramps in my woods that I transplanted from the wild
Ramps often are found in patches of
a million or more, but that does not mean you can be careless about harvesting
them – a patch that sizes takes a lifetime or more to develop. Dig a few in one
spot, move to another – and never take all from any one location. If I dig out
25 from one spot, I am sure to leave half a dozen in the ground.
If you want to start your own
patch, first learn to identify the plant. They have leaves that are 6 to 12
inches long and 1 to 3 inches wide with a pointy end. There is a groove down
the middle of the leaf, and the lower stem may have some maroon coloring. And
the scent is distinct, similar to garlic and leeks. The bulbs are half an inch
wide or so, and two inches long or less, depending when you pull them. There is
an outer sheath over the bulb which you should slide off when you cut off the
To grow your own, carefully observe
where you find them in the wild. Look at the trees: often maples and beech,
sometimes ash or poplar form the canopy. Wildflowers that grow along with ramps
include spring beauty, Dutchman’s breeches and trout lily.
Dutchman's breeches often grow in areas with ramps
The soil for growing ramps should
be rich and dark. If you want some near the house and kitchen, dig some up and
try to match the environment where you find them in the wild. Be sure to ask
the landowner if you want to take some from a neighbor. These are spring
ephemerals, so the leaves will die and disappear before mid-summer.
I know that many gardeners think of dandelions as pests, and they can be. But they are also tasty if you dig some before they bloom; after blooming they tend to get bitter.
Dandelions need to be harvested now, before blooming
To harvest dandelions, bring a
table knife with you to a patch of lawn or garden that has not been treated
with chemicals – no herbicides, no chemical fertilizers, no pesticides. Slice
the roots an inch beneath the soil surface and lift the dandelion carefully as
you don’t want to sprinkle any soil onto the greens. The white portion just
beneath the soil is delicious, but you can toss the brown-skinned tap root.
Use a table knife to cut off the tap root
I wash the dandelions with the
sprayer in my kitchen sink, and then leave the roots in a bowl of water to
loosen any more soil. Then I return and rinse them after soaking. I like to
steam them lightly, then serve with cider vinegar or a little butter. Although
I eat them the same day I pick them, my late friend Rev Wightman used to freeze
them and eat them throughout the year.
Sorrel is a perennial green with a nice lemony taste
Sorrel is a great favorite of
French cooks who make a soup with it. Although I grow it, I am not wild about
it. It is a bright leafy green that comes back, year after year. It has a sharp
lemony flavor, a bit like wood sorrel. My problem with it is that when you cook
it, it practically disappears. It has little substance. But it’s easy to grow,
and adds a unique flavor if added to a salad or even a sandwich. Plants are
often sold at garden centers in the herb section.
My rhubarb is up! I love rhubarb
for its sharp flavor, one that I have been told is among the last to disappear for
the elderly when they lose their ability to sense flavors.
This rhubarb will be ready to eat in a few days
Rhubarb is easy to grow. It does best in full sun with rich moist soil. I have grown it in dry soil and although it grows in dry places, it is not as vigorous. It has a deep fleshy root. If you have a friend with a rhubarb patch, it is easy to dig some out and bring it home. Just plunge a spade into the middle of a plant, and then around it, and lift out a section of root. Add plenty of compost and organic fertilizer to the soil when you plant it.
Rhubarb comes in green-stemmed and red-stemmed varieties. I like the red, though I doubt there is a difference in taste. The leaves are a little toxic – they contain oxalic acid – but are not going to kill you if you eat some.
For a spring drink, chop a pound of stems, add water, and boil until soft. Drain off the mush, add some sugar and more water for a tasty pink drink that has got to be healthier for you than soda!
Eating seasonally is good for you – and I like having treats now that I only get once a year. Soon fiddleheads will be up – but more on that another day.
By the way, if you need someone to rescue your overgrown apple tree, I’m your guy – if you live in the Upper Valley. Call me at 603-543-1307 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or I can give you a private pruning lesson. I do blueberry pruning, too.
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