Ramps: Coming to a Backyard Near You This Spring

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Photo credit: Danielle Scott via Flickr

The snow is melting, the temperature is rising, and I am ready to get back into one of my favorite outdoor activities: foraging!

There is so much foragable food living in the soil in our region, and if the foraging is done in a thoughtful, sustainable way, upstate New York can look forward to fresh greens every spring for years to come. Of course, spring is not the only time of year to find delectable plant life growing in the wild, but the season does provide a bounty of greens that can be incorporated into everything from soups to main dishes.

Ramps are one of my favorite foragable delicacies, and from the first week of April to early June, ramps can be found growing…well…rampantly throughout the Hudson Valley. Despite having come into the public conscious as an edible and flavorful treat only in recent years, the “ail-des-bois” has already gained a following of both professional and casual foragers. And what’s not to love about ramps? Belonging to the onion family, these leafy greens are easy to spot in the wild and have a light, garlicky flavor that can add depth to a variety of dishes.

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That said, ramps are a wild plant, and susceptible to parasites and bacteria, so they need to be cleaned very well and cooked thoroughly before they are enjoyed in a springtime recipe. But don’t let that turn you off of these distinct greens – raw ramps can be grilled, pickled, and baked into a delicious seasonal dish. And if you freeze ramps after picking them, they can be used to recreate that delicious seasonal dish all year long!

Here’s my technique for grilling ramps:

Cut the root end off the ramps and wash
Place the ramps on a baking sheet and brush them lightly with oil
Season with salt and pepper (as desired)
Allow grill to preheat
Place ramps on the hot grill and cook until tender and charred

Once they’re grilled, ramps can be served as a condiment on meat, tossed in a salad, or enjoyed on their own – with fresh, local ingredients, you can keep things simple and still create dishes that delight. Personally, I can’t wait until this winter is officially over and I can bring Terrapin’s popular asparagus and ramp soup back to the menu! We get our asparagus from local farmers, and the ramps themselves are provided by yours truly after a few hours of backyard foraging.

Speaking of this endless winter, there is no doubt that the shorter growing season will give us a smaller ramp supply this year. Add to this the growing popularity of ramping, and we’re now looking at the possibility of long-term consequences for the annual ramp harvest. Sounds to me like a good time to start talking about sustainable foraging! In general, common sense is key when it comes to developing good foraging habits: If you find an area where wild ramps are growing, don’t pick every single one. Another way to ensure that we can continue to enjoy ramps for years to come is to leave the roots of the plant in the ground without dislodging them, cutting the base of the bulb just above the roots. This will allow the plant to grow the following year.

Practical precautions aside, I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the coming of spring than by creating a dish from foraged, cooked greens. So if you don’t mind getting a little dirty, grab your hand trowel and dig in.

Happy foraging!

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About Josh Kroner

Chef Josh Kroner has been a driving force behind the farm to table movement in the Hudson Valley since he opened Terrapin in 1998. As executive Chef/Owner of Terrapin Restaurant, voted Best Restaurant in Dutchess County in 2013 & 2014, he continues to please Hudson Valley diners with his New American cooking, blending aspects of French, Southwestern and Asian cuisines, and local, organic ingredients. He currently serves as a board member for Hudson Valley Restaurant Week and was awarded the 2014 Victoria A. Simons Locavore Award.

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