There are few vegetables whose arrival is more heralded than the ramp. Part of its appeal is in its timing. It appears right at that moment when the overwintered potatoes, apples and squash have become soft, spotty and entirely unappetizing. Ramps are green, fresh and taste like a randy cross between green onions and garlic.
It used to be that ramps were something that people foraged for themselves. Bountiful spots were precious and their locations were coveted family secrets. These days, ramps are a little easier to come by, provided you live east of the Mississippi and get to your local farmers' market close to the opening bell.
Ramps, which are actually wild leeks, are good roasted, grilled, sautéed, whirled into vinaigrette or pureed into pesto. They also make an outstanding pickle. In fact, nearly every time I encounter ramps, I make pickles from the white root end. Would you expect anything else from me?
My first encounter with ramps came on my 30th birthday. A friend of mine came bearing a small jar of bulbs as a gift. After a bit of research, I submerged them in an unsweetened vinegar solution spiked with a healthy spoonful of traditional pickling spice. Though they were good, I've revised my technique a little over the years. I've found that ramps like a little bit of sweetness in their brine and that the clove-heavy pickling spice isn't always the right note with the slight funk of the ramps.
These days I used rice wine vinegar (unsweetened, please!) with a bit of sugar, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, a bay leaf and just a pinch of red chili flakes for heat. The resulting pickle enhances the natural ramp-y flavor.
Before You Get Started
Always buy more ramps than you think you need. The jar in these pictures looks a little skimpy because I underestimated my purchase. Ramps have such a short season that it's better to overbuy than underbuy.
Because there's nothing about a ramp that is either neat or precisely cultivated, you have to take a bit more care in their preparation. Wash them well in several changes of cold water to ensure you remove all the grit.
The best part of the ramp to pickle is the white part between the roots and the point at which the greens begin to sprout. Once you clean and trim them, you're left with a slender, three-inch portion. It's a lot of work, but definitely worth doing.
Don't toss the green tops! You can either sauté them and serve them as a cooked green or process them into a onion-y pesto.
About the author: Marisa McClellan is a food writer, canning teacher, and dedicated pickler who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her jams, pickles and preserves (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first book, also called Food in Jars, will be published by Running Press in May 2012.