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Issue 04: RAMPS
Nature's Most Elusive Allium
Photo thanks to @fungusamongusstudio
When I first moved to Brooklyn, I don’t know if I considered myself a “foodie” but I definitely considered myself someone who enjoyed eating. After working at places like The Meat Hook, I learned more about “food” and became familiar with foraged delicacies like morels, fiddlehead ferns and, yes, ramps. But to be clear, ramps are not a typical produce section offering. They are wild, not domesticated, which means they must be foraged, limiting their availability and making them cost prohibitive for many. Additionally, their foraging season is brief, only a few weeks between March and May, making them even more exclusive.
Eventually I found myself buying ramps for the shop when I became the produce manager and watched them disappear from the display, despite their price tag. What was the deal with these shallot-y scallions that were impossible to clean, with an impossibly short growing season?
Turns out, we’ve always been obsessed with ramps: Native North Americans regarded them as a spring tonic that cleansed the blood, following long winter months without access to fresh fruits and vegetables. They also made a poultice from the juice of the strong summer bulbs to relieve bee stings and used ramps in decoctions treating coughs and colds.
Ramps are a perennial forest herb, also known as wild leeks. In Appalachia they are better known as ramps, while the Great Lakes area typically refers to them as wild leeks. The harvest season in the Great Lakes is typically a couple weeks behind the Appalachian harvest. (Because of the abundance of ramps and their odorous nature, the Menomini called the Southern shore of Lake Michigan CicagaWuni or shikako, “skunk place”. Chicago is named after ramps!)
Because they were one of the first plants to emerge with the onset of spring, ramps became celebrated in many Appalachian festivals. Some ramp festivals remain, with offerings including ramp burgers, ramperoni rolls, ramp chili, ramp risotto with shrimp, ramp sausage, ramp cookies, ramp mints, ramp butter, ramp wine, ramp hardtack, ramp pancakes, and ramp coleslaw. I found some photos of some Ramp Queens from these festivals, because it’s not a county fair without a teenage girl in a tiara.
Rep. B. Carroll Reece (C) crowning the Queen of the Ramp Festival. *Please note the ramp staff being handed to the newly crowned Ramp Queen
A view of the contestants for Ramp Festival Queen, at the Cosby Ramp Festival. Cocke County, Tennessee. May 6, 1956.
Rep. Jimmy Quillen and the "Ramp Queen," Ramp Festival, Cosby, Tennessee. May 1, 1965.
Gov. Frank G. Clement, Commissioner Donald M. McSween and the Ramp Queen of 1964. Ramp Festival, Cosby, Tennessee. May 1, 1965.
Farmers markets in New York City resemble ramp festivals, or maybe Black Friday, during ramp season. Calliope Bosen, produce sales manager at Brooklyn Grange, explains the wild allium’s allure saying, “They are literally just a train ride away but no one will tell you that, because they have gotten the New York City hype. The ramps’ regrowth is from the roots and bulb, calling for sustainable harvesting methods which, in my opinion, created more hype because sustainability is sexy for New Yorkers. What's also sexy is the sweetness of something you can't have anytime you want.”
Their flavor is a combination of garlicky, oniony, and pungent. You can sub ramps anywhere you would use scallions or spring onions. Celebrate spring in your kitchen while you shelter in place (*if you have money to burn)!
When choosing ramps for purchase, look for firm bulbs and green (but not too dark) leaves with no signs of wilting. Avoid any with yellow, limp leaves or dull-looking, discolored bulbs. The thinner the ramp stalk, the more tender it will be. Your bunch of ramps will probably be dirty - they’re wild! That’s ok! If you do not have access to a farmer’s market or specialty grocer offering ramps, Earthy Delights seems to be a responsible source.
Because ramps are wild and need to be sustainably harvested, it is important to only buy from suppliers you trust. Foragers often share with friends! Calliope explains further:
The BEST way to buy and eat ramps is getting them from a farm or forager that only harvests the leaves. But EVERYONE KNOWS THE BULB IS THE BEST PART.
The second best way to buy them is to talk to your farmer or forager and ask if they use mindful harvesting techniques. If you are buying them in a grocery store, look for the company that supplied them and Google them. When you read and hear words like mindful, leave two take one, respectful harvesting, and sustainable harvesting methods they are hopefully doing their part for ramps longevity.
Ramps can be eaten raw or cooked. To prepare for either, cut off any hairy roots and strip off the outer layer as you would with a scallion. Run the ramps under cool water using your fingers to help remove any dirt; pat dry. You can also submerge the bulbs in cool water for up to a few hours.
The stems, leaves, and bulbs are all edible but the leaves are bolder and spicier, while the bulbs have a milder, sweeter flavor.
Epicurious has a Gourmet magazine recipe for Spaghetti with Ramps from April, 2000 with only six ingredients. Caramelized ramps also sound like a great call. Calliope enjoys ramps with eggs, especially in a frittata with french breakfast radish. Erin Barnhart, a food stylist/culinary producer/recipe developer and founder of @fungusamongusstudio shared her RAMP SALT recipe with us this week! Thank you, Erin!
RAMP SALT (inspired by Heidi Robb)
Combine equal parts (by weight) fine sea salt and ramp leaves. (Save the bulb ends to pickle!)
Zip them together in a food processor until smooth. I reckon you could also use a mortar and pestle, if that's more your speed.
Thinly spread on a baking sheet and dehydrate either in a dehydrator (duh), in your oven set to the lowest temperature, or the sunshine, if you're lucky enough to have that option. [Note: I dehydrated by placing in the oven and sticking a wooden spoon in the door for air circulation. I turned the oven on the lowest setting (about 200 degrees F) for about an hour, then used an offset spatula to break up a bit, and repeated until completely dry. If your oven feels warm without being turned on, you can simply leave it in the oven until it is completely dry, perhaps 12 to 24 hours. The idea is you are evaporating all of the moisture from the mixture. You'll know its finished when you rub the mixture between your fingers and it crumbles very easily and you feel no moisture. To dry in sunshine: any spot will do, as long as it is uncovered to let the moisture naturally evaporate away.]
The result is a garlic salt with a far greater depth of flavor and grassiness than the plastic little jar variety could ever offer! Use it to amp up a simple dish of spaghetti with butter and anchovies, popcorn, poached eggs, or toast broiled with cheese. Will last for a very, very long time stored in an airtight container.
Ramps will stay fresh in your refrigerator for three to four days. If you're not planning to use them right away, wrap them in a damp paper towel and store them in a loosely closed bag, or unsealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. Make sure the delicate leaves are covered by the towel, and don't bend or crush the plant. Keeping them sealed versus loose in your crisper drawer will help to prevent making your entire fridge smell like ramps.
If you want to make your ramps last even longer and want to freeze them, chop the green leaves separately, air-dry them for a few hours and then freeze them in an air-tight container for future use as a seasoning. You can also blanch the leaves, shock them in an ice-water bath, let them air-dry, then freeze them in a single layer in a freezer bag. You can also freeze them whole, bulb and stem together. Store up to six months. (Here are more detailed instructions on how to freeze ramps from The Spruce Eats)
Ramps are a wild forest herb, foraged at the beginning of springtime. Ramps are part of the allium family and can be substituted in place of spring onions and scallions. Make sure to buy sustainably harvested ramps. Their harvest season begins in late March and ends in mid-May. They’re pricey. They’re yummy.
This North Carolina gentleman bringing Ramp Coachella vibes with his ramp crown.
(For all you fellow history nerds out there, Grub Street’s article from 2013 about the history of ramps is a fun place to start.)
The freshest picked news from the world wide web
Workers at Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart, Walmart, FedEx, Target, and Shipt are planning to strike May 1, 2020.(tomorrow)
Some grocery chains, like Giant Food and Weis Market are offering their nutritional programming online.
Third party bots are snatching Instacart orders from human shoppers.
Tyson takes out a full page ad in the Sunday NYT, saying the food supply chain they created is “breaking” but … they made it this way? “The first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. occurred on January 19. Workers have told me that it wasn’t until April 23, after more than 5,000 cases had developed among meat processing workers, that Tyson finally equipped its line workers with personal protective equipment.”
Federal lawmakers are considering a bipartisan bill that would allow grocery and convenience store workers who earn less than $75,000 per year to avoid paying federal income tax on up to $25,000 in wages they receive between Feb. 15 and June 15, 2020. (via Grocery Dive)
Anchorage, Alaska got a Girl Scout Cookie Bailout.
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