Also called wild leeks, “ramps” (Allium tricoccum) are a delicious addition to any meal and a joy to seek and harvest. I never encountered ramps until I was an adult, as I have never seen them growing in the regions of Maine where I spent my childhood. Even though harvesting wild foods like fiddleheads and mushrooms were not an unusual part of my childhood, I had never even heard of ramps until I started visiting Connecticut as an adult. I still haven’t found any in my new home of southwestern New Hampshire, but I know they’re out there!

Recently, a friend in Connecticut sent me some photos of a wonderful ramp patch from which she carefully harvested enough for a delicious dinner. Because ramps are such a delicious and easy to identify food, their populations have declined in many parts of their range due to overharvesting. Some people ascribe to the “one quarter rule,” meaning they only take one of every four plants in an area. They leave one for the plants, one for the animals, one for people who may need it more, and they take the fourth for themselves. I think that rule is a fine one to live by, even in a patch as lush as this one:

Courtesy of P.Horn
Courtesy of P.Horn

Ramps are easy to identify due to their resemblance to a variety of well-known plants in the Lily family. They have long, straight leaves with parallel veins (a classic monocot), a purplish hue where the leaves are just about to meet the soil, bright white bulbs underground, and a distinctive leek scent throughout.

Courtesy of P.Horn
Courtesy of P.Horn

Just like garlic, onions, and leeks, some close relatives of ramps, they can be used in a huge variety of dishes, from quiches to soups to simple sauteed or caramelized side dishes. I love featuring wild foods in something I don’t have every day, so a few years ago I made some ramp pierogies (with kale on the side).

Ramp Pierogis Spring '11

If you’ve always wanted to try a wild food but haven’t yet, ramps are an unintimidating choice. But please, only harvest where they grow “ramp”antly.

Some ramp recipes here

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