Wild, Free & Delicious Eats: Ramps

Forest Forage: Ramps – Spring 2017 – Stowe, Vermont

Mid-April in Vermont can be a bit confusing as to how one can fully enjoys the outdoors. Predicting the weather is nearly impossible so weekend exploration planning is usually left to the “wait and see” strategy.  The chickadees chirp in a bragging, taunting manner.  Unless you have hoop houses, the only chance at playing in the garden is the unfulfilling act of soil preparation. Did we mention mud season? With the multiple downsides this time of year brings, foraging in the woods provides an offshoot to the gloom of early Spring. Late this week the clouds parted, the sun shined and the temperatures spiked to a balmy 75 degrees. It was time for a forage in the forest.

Forest Forage: Ramps - Spring 2017 - Stowe, Vermont
Allium tricoccum colony prior to harvest

At this time of year, you’re really only looking for three main delicacies: dandelion greens, fiddleheads or ramps. Over the years, we’ve become quite partial to Allium tricoccum, or ramps. As the genus implies, this plant is a member of the onion family and much of the flavor it imparts is similar.

Forest Forage: Ramps - Spring 2017 - Stowe, Vermont
Ramp butter and quail eggs on toast. Credit: seriouseats.com

Make a butter, thrown them in a quiche, or create a spreadable pesto. The uses for ramps are endless and their versatility and flavor should have them at the top of every foragers priority list. If you decide this outdoor activity is for you and/or your family, follow our harvesting tips to ensure your trip is a success and full of fun.

1.) Where to find ramps: Understory of deciduous, low lying forests. Beech, maple and ash to be exact.

Forest Forage: Ramps - Spring 2017 - Stowe, Vermont
Red Trillium – Trillium erectum

Trillium presence is also a good indicator. Terrain can vary. We’ve seen them on steep hillsides to flat areas along a river. Soils are usually moist and rich, not boggy. Sun exposure varies as well, but usually in dappled sunlight.

2.) How to harvest: You can ensure a harvest year after year by remembering two things- only harvest 15% of the overall colony and never remove the entire plant. Bringing a pair of pruning scissors and cutting right above the roots will allow for future harvest and further colony establishment.

Forest Forage: Ramps - Spring 2017 - Stowe, Vermont
Hunt established colonies, not singular/ randomized

Hunting in the most dense part of the colony will not only ensure less work on your part, but allow the newly established areas to thrive. In short, remove the duff layer, dig to the root system and make a cut at the end of the bulb and beginning of root system.

3.) When: A week after the snow has melted up until a month after. This period can be generalized in central Vermont as mid-April to mid-May.

Forest Forage: Ramps - Spring 2017 - Stowe, Vermont
Cuts made above the roots and below the bulb

4.) Bring them to market! Although we’ll be foraging soon for personal use, this year’s harvest was tested in the local market to see what interest, if any, existed. Between restaurants and grocers, especially in Vermont, what could be the problem? The issue with being a seasonal forager is that you’re likely not going to take time to incorporate a business and some business may not want to work with anyone not capable of generating an invoice. This, I believe is the best part of seasonal foraging-find a buyer who is willing to barter in the form of a gift card. This way, you’re offering the local culinary community a valued delicacy while enjoying the fruits of your labor. It just makes sense. Go to the places you frequent and enjoy the most. The establishment that best fits this description for us is PK Coffee in Stowe. We find ourselves sipping and eating here way too often so it only seemed reasonable that we give our wallets a break while providing the place we love with locally foraged produce. I’m sure they’ll come up with something creative and delicious. (high chance we’ll be eating whatever they come up with)

Forest Forage: Ramps - Spring 2017 - Stowe, Vermont
Ramp colony on flat, river bed location, facing Southwest
Forest Forage: Ramps - Spring 2017 - Stowe, Vermont
Foraged hillside post-harvest

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