That which we call a ramp

March 22, 2012

What's in a name? That which we call a ramp, by any other name would smell as...stinky? But that's not quite it. The wild spring onion, Allium tricoccum, after which Chicago is believed to be named (though that's disputed) is often described as having an aroma like onions, garlic, or leeks—which are close. But ramps in fact have a kind of deep pungency you can almost taste. I found a patch (above), and many others, in the woods this morning. I picked a few leaves and now, every time I open my fridge, their wild aroma wafts out to remind me they're there.

Surprisingly my first taste of ramps this year was not my own but at Blackbird (above), with roasted guinea hen, cauliflower-Marcona almond purée, and fennel-yuzu glaze. The dish was a current take of chef/owner Paul Kahan's classic, by Chef de Cuisine David Posey, as part of the Tasting Table Dinner Tales series. Kahan introduced each course, explaining its context within the contemporary history of the restaurant, a local trailblazer in farm—or in this case, forage—to-table food.

Yesterday, the one and only Tim Burton—of Burton's Maple Syrup—harvested ramps (above) from an area of his woods he calls "Deep Ramp Holler". Last week, one night near midnight, he texted, "This is kind of a secret place of mine that no one knows about. Ramps have been growing in this particular area for possibly hundreds of years and is literally untouched. The ramps carpet the valley floors and hills...it's a sight to see! The Easter lilies are full bloom here in southern Indiana so I'm anticipating seeing at least ramp shoots." 

Clearly Tim and his friends found much more than shoots this week—which may be a problem if we get another hard freeze, which we probably will. The ramp shoots only usually don't appear until early April. Last year I found my first ones on April 8 (above) when it's normally still so cold outside I'm not fearful of mosquitos and ticks to get to them. 

But they're here now. Paul Virant pickles ramps to use throughout the year. His new book, The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-Doux is out April 3. Three book release dinner parties at Vie will in part benefit the DuPage Medical Group Charitable Fund.

When eaten fresh from the ground, ramps are not so much the harbinger of spring, but more a battle cry of the bounty to come. 

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