Earth Eats co-author Annie Corrigan comes to the IU Press Blog with a special article on foraging for wild ramps, a species of wild onion native to Indiana.
Spring foraging is all the rage these days. Wet and warm weather has morel lovers putting on their boots and grabbing their mesh bags in the hopes of hitting it big in the woods.
But then there are people like Jill Vance. Maybe you can relate.
“I just don’t do mushrooms,” she says. “I have never loved the taste of mushrooms enough to learn them well, and I just don’t have an eye for them either. I can step in a patch of morels and not see them.”
Vance is the interpretive naturalist at Monroe Lake and one of the wild edibles experts on staff at Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources.
“I was so happy to find these,” she says, pointing to a large patch of bright green ramps. These wild leeks taste like a combination of onions and garlic in one leafy package. Vance says ramps have become a culinary darling. “That’s a good thing and a bad thing,” she says. “It’s good because it helps people appreciate what we have here naturally. It’s a bad thing because these things do not reproduce very quickly on their own, and a lot of wild populations have just been decimated by the trend seekers who want to come out and get a lot of them.”
She says the sustainable way to harvest wild ramps is to slice off some of the outer leaves – no more than 10% of one patch – and leave the bulbs in the ground.
If you want just enough ramps for dinner, it makes sense to take a walk in the woods and harvest a dozen leaves. But if you want to supply a restaurant with ramps, like Kevin Pope of Lucas Lane Farm, it would be convenient – and lucrative – to be able to grow ramps like any other crop.
On Pope’s two-acre farm, the spinach, peppers and starter plants are protected in four large cold frames, while the three tiny patches of transplanted ramps are growing out in the open. That’s because the deer, which nibble on just about every other crop on his farm, don’t enjoy ramps.
He points to several clusters of bright green leaves. “These are probably three years old,” he says. “I probably could (harvest them) but I probably won’t. I just want to fill everything in.”
The wild ramps season is a short one. He digs up the plants – bulb, root system and leaves – from the patches in the woods on his property for about a month. Then he transplants them closer to his house. The ramps drop seeds in June and July. Pope envisions a carpet of ramps growing on his farm.
“Everybody’s got great bell peppers. Everybody’s got zucchini and squash. I don’t need to compete with that. What I need to do is grow stuff that’s interesting,” he says.
If you see ramps for sale at farmers’ markets, they will likely be sold as the entire plant. You can try replanting the ramps in your garden. They like moist, loamy soil.