Monday, April 5, 2021

The harbingers of spring

On a grey Easter Sunday we drove north to the Catskills. Since our last visit, in early March, trees had toppled into the rushing river, changing its profile.

Within minutes the sun came out and the temperature on this warm side of the valley rose from four-layers-plus-woollen-hat-and-gloves to T-shirt. It was wonderful.


And then we found the ramps (Allium tricoccum). I have collected these native wild leeks here for years but this time we walked further than usual. The slopes were greening as far as we could see.

Backpack with ramps

I collected enough leaves to make a large bunch wide enough to fill my backpack. But often I just stood, and stared, smiling at this robust population of the delicious spring edible, so vulnerable to commercial exploitation.  In some places it is wildly abundant. In others it has been razed. 

They are not that hard to cultivate (spring sun, summer shade, humus-rich soil, plenty of moisture). 

The river far below ran fast, while up on the damp slope the ramps were growing almost audibly. In amongst them ephemeral wildflowers like wake-robin and toothwort were beginning to emerge. There were some early insects. And birds catching them. The fragile edge of spring.

Le Creuset with lamb

Back home, a pot of lamb shoulder had been cooking in a very low oven, all day. Lamb with a spoon, my mom used to call it (I called it spam with a loon). It was fall-apart tender when we walked back into the apartment, eight hours after leaving.

And I added some ramp leaves to melt for a final half hour's fragrance. Their wild onion scent made the Frenchman hum happily.

Sandwich in a pan

The next ramp meal was a grilled cheese sandwich, on sourdough I baked late last week. Grated cheddar, mustard, ramp leaves. Cooked in sizzling butter.

A feast. And necessary fuel for all the ramp preservation to follow.  Ramp leaf oil, ramp leaf salt.

Much more ramp stuff in that chapter of Forage, Harvest, Feast



  1. We were just at our cabin in N MN and I found ramps! We've never been up that early so I've missed them in all their spring glory. I also collected a paper bag full. Besides the grilled cheese which will be made immediately I plan on oil too. I make spruce salt each year but maybe I need to try ramp salt. I'm assuming you dry it somehow?

    1. I'm so sorry I saw your comment so late. Congratulations on the ramps! The recipes for ramps - and salt - are all in Forage, Harvest, Feast! I air-dry the salt to preserve its color and very intense aroma.

  2. I have been cultivating a patch of ramps in our woods for a few years...when I finally picked some leaves last year I got a terrible stomachache, seems they are high in FODMAPS :(
    This year I plan to use them to infuse some EVOO, said to be easier to digest!

    1. I'm so glad you are cultivating them! I
      I have eaten many ramps, and have never had any issues, fortunately. And I had to Google FODMAPS :-)

      If you do infuse them in oil, do not leave that oil out at room temperature: It's a good recipe for botulism. In the ramp chapter of Forage, Harvest, Feast there are a couple of recipes for a very vivid green ramp oil, made with either raw or roasted ramp leaves. Freeze it or chill it till you need it. It keeps really well.


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