Foraging for Ramps with Chef Peter Platt
Posted by: Marilyn Bethany
Posted on: Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Has anyone found any morels? I’ve been checking “my” locations but have come up empty handed. The husband said it was to early! but I’m going to keep on checking. I do have plenty of ramps.
not foraging, but i am cooking soup….ramps/potato potage, based with bacon fat and herbs (thyme rosemary + red pepper)....hmmmm
While it’s great to see a burgeoning interest in gathering and eating wild foods in the Berkshires, as evidenced from the upcoming “Farmed and Foraged” event, I wanted to share I concern I have, though, about one kind of foraging.
My concern has to do with the adverse impacts of digging up ramps from the wild, fueled in large part by their increasing popularity with high-profile chefs. As you (may) know, ramps (a.k.a., wild leeks, Allium tricoccum) is a wild plant species native to the eastern U.S. and southern Canada. While country people (particularly in the southern Appalachians) have gathered ramps for their own use for many years without depleting the plant populations, the species
I guess that is why I have plenty of ramps since I only cut the leaves. Great piece of info.
I’m confused about the event.
Is it actually a workshop on foraging?
Maybe Russ could pull together a quick primer on identifying spring’s “forageable” plants and mushrooms and doing so in a way that doesn’t deplete them…
I’d pay $15 - $20 for such a workshop.
Mike, no it’s special dinners in restaurants that feature locally foraged and farmed food. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.
Kristin, what do you do with the leaves? If you have recipes, please share them.
Christo, you too.
Russ, thank you for your patient and informative reply. Clearly needed, as it hadn’t crossed my mind. Are you certain that cutting the leaves doesn’t damage the plant?
Thank you all for your comments, Marilyn
Hello Mike (and anyone else who might be interested) I will be leading a foraging walk at the Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent on Sat. June 6, sponsored by the Columbia Land Conservancy. Details are available on-line at http://www.clctrust.org/events.htm
P.S., to answer Marilyn ‘s question, as far as I know, ramps are not adversely affected by having a leaf picked off each plant. It is certainly a more sustainable way of harvesting the plant than digging them up.
BTW, I follow a similar harvesting protocol when harvesting Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads - I’ll pick only one or two from each clump. and leave the rest to grow.
That said, many weeds and invasive species are edible and may be gathered without any fears of depletion (in fact some ecologists would be thrilled if we picked and ate as many of these species as we possibly could).
It’s on my calendar.
Russ is one more witness, with lots of knowledge, to the great disruption of our food supply from too much everything. Much of these food sources don’t do well if you scale harvesting to satisfy the great maw of our current society. The ramp leaf will do quite well as pesto and just lightly cooked as a sautee (it will puff up like a balloon at high heat). The presence of Garlic Mustard here in the Berkshires is staggering: roadside, backyard, forest and so on. I understand the need to integrate these foods into the mainstream menu but it will not sustain itself.
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Update: Knowledgeable naturalist Russ Cohen (click on comments below) will be conducting a foraging walk at the Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent on Saturday. June 6, sponsored by the Columbia Land Conservancy.
Farmed + Foraged: A Weekend of Spring Flavors, on May 15 - 17, is a farm-to-table dining event with a dozen-plus participating Berkshire County restaurants offering three-course prix-fixe menus that celebrate locally-grown produce, Berkshire artisan cheeses, heritage breed meats, locally made bread and chocolate, and Berkshire-crafted beer and spirits.
The “farmed” part sounds familiar enough, but that “foraged” business caught our eye: Do local chefs actually go rummaging through the woods in search of morels and fiddleheads?
Well, as it happens, some do. But with fresh morels selling for $30-or-so per pound, fat chance anyone lucky enough to know where to find some for free is going to share that information. Even fiddlehead foraging is an insider’s game: they all look alike in infancy, but some ferns taste better than others and are more digestible. Identifying the difference takes expertise.
“There used to be a fiddlehead lady who would pick about 1,000 pounds per season,” says Peter Platt, owner-chef of The Old Inn on the Green in New Marlborough, and former executive chef at Wheatleigh, the luxury resort in Lenox where he worked for 17 years. “She’d find them mostly along riverbanks.
Platt, whose restaurant will participate in the event, swears he doesn’t have a secret stash of morels, though he says some who work in his kitchen do. And he doesn’t hunt for fiddleheads. But he does like to forage for the ramps that grow wild for 3 or 4 weeks each spring in damp spots throughout our region. Finding ramps, or wild leeks, doesn’t require the nose of a truffle pig. In fact, their bright green leaves pop against the browns and grays of the early spring woods. Easily identified by their foliage, which is similar to that of a mature lily-of-the-valley, only brighter green, each ramp has only two leaves, but since they grow in convenient clumps, they’re hard to miss. Platt’s favorite hunting ground is in York Lake State Park in Sandisfield. “All you need is a good trowel,” he says.
Back in the kitchen, Platt uses every part of the ramp. After he’s washed off the dirt and sliced off the roots along with the thin, loose membrane that covers each bulb, he will chop the white part and use it as an onion substitute in a powerfully-flavored dish, such as hash browns with bacon. “At this time of year, we like to top the hash browns, bacon, and ramps with sauteed shad roe, as both the ramps and the roe are in season so briefly and at exactly the same time. We finish that with a little brown-butter-lemon-caper-and-parsley sauce.”
Platt, a native Chicagoan who came to Berkshire County to attend Williams College, says ramps can be used in any recipe as a substitute for leeks, “just make sure they’re cooked all the way through.” Ramp greens are edible, too. “They retain their color and body even after they’re cooked,” he says. “yet they’re tender, not tough and stringy like leek greens. We use them as a wrap for fish mousse.”
Peter Platt’s Pickled Ramps
To extend the lifespan of ramps on the Old Inn menu, Platt pickles the white portion. “We use them as a garnish,” he says, “or as a substitute for the pickled onion in a Gibson.”
Wash ramps briefly (they aren’t sandy like leeks, so require no soaking), slip down the loose membrane covering the white bulb and chop it off, along with the roots. Cut off the green tops and retain for another use.
Blanch the ramps in salted boiling water for 60 seconds. Drain.
Meanwhile, stir together a brine:
1/2 c red wine vinegar
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. sugar.
Once the sugar is dissolved, pour the brine over the hot ramps, cover, and refrigerate. According to Platt, the ramps will be pickled in just a couple of hours, and they will keep in the refrigerator for months. If properly canned in sealed glass jars, they will keep indefinitely without refrigeration, until the seal is broken, after which they must be kept chilled.
Farmed + Foraged, May 15 - 17 throughout the Berkshires
For a list of participating restaurants, go to the Berkshire Grown website.
For menus, check the Berkshire Grown Blog closer to the date of the event.