Early one morning two weeks ago I woke to the excited look in my fiance eyes. He had been on an early morning bike ride and had spotted a plant that he was almost certain was a species he had been looking for since early spring. He hurried me to get dressed and we headed out to verify wether or not Nick had gotten lucky and found Ramps. Allium tricoccum, also known as Wild Leeks, are a wild delicacy that only grows for a brief period during the first couple weeks of the early spring's warmth. (If they were easy to find, foraging them would be more prominent but because of their camouflage, growing near other similar looking plants like Lilies and hidden by larger plants like Skunk cabbage, it is hard to spot them.)
But sure enough, he had found a little colony of Ramps. Blanketed by the dead foliage of last fall their dark, delicate leaves had emerged enough to leave them vulnerable to the curious eye. We promptly rubbed their stems and the delicious, pungent scent of onion wafted into my nose. These were most definitely Ramps. We harvested a few, leaving little more than half the colony intact and headed home to clean the stems, cut off the roots and store them for what Nick couldn't decide on but would be the perfect dish.
Ramps' taste is so mild you can do just about anything with them. We thought about stir fry, adding them to kimchi, making a dressing, adding them to a salad, putting them in soup, roasting them with root veggies, the list goes on....the culinary world is the Ramps oyster. Remember, you worked hard for it so do whatever you heart ( and stomach) desires :) Have fun with it!
It's as easy at that.....well, really it's not easy at all :) Foraging is an art form. You have to know exactly where to look, exactly what time of year, and exactly what you are looking for. As I said before, in the natural world and through all its glorious evolutionary ways plants (among most things) have adapted by camouflage or mimicking other plants. Often times you will be mislead by a plant's doppleganger. So just be careful (especially when foraging mushrooms) not to eat anything until you've double checked it's the edible kind.
Oh......There are a few rules of thumb that I feel I must encourage anyone eager to try foraging to follow.
1.) If you are lucky enough to have someone show you the ropes it is more than likely that you will be asked not to divulge their locations (blindfold anyone?? :). Finders Keepers, in a way. Maybe it comes down to pride or "ownership"; pride that you've found these habitats but "ownership" over keeping them safe and productive for years to come. Whatever the reasoning might be this rule is as old as the act of foraging, so please try and keep the secret.
2.) If and when you find whatever it is your foraging for please remember not to deplete the colony. Simply put, if you take everything you find now there will be nothing to come back to next time. They say to leave more than half of the colony so that it has a better than fighting chance to procreate. Or, as Nick puts it "Many foragers, because they most likely have many locations they gather from, will switch off between these places every year giving the places they took from last year a year to regrow and hopefully multiply". "One for you (nature), One for me".
Oh, and we made Stir Fry with the Ramps and they were most certainly the star of the dish :)