Last Saturday dawned gray and rainy, so my morning plans of fishing were put on hold. Yes, I admit it, I am a fair weather fisherman. To me it is more about the act of fishing than actually catching fish, though catching them is an added plus. Since this is the case, I prefer my fishing days warm and sunny, and usually accompanied by a few beers! But since we had canceled our fishing plans I decided to head to my favorite spot to pick ramps (wild leeks). The trees would keep the worst of the drizzle from reaching me and the wet ground would make digging ramps rather easy. Besides, the place I was headed is so full of ramps I wouldn’t have to search too long or hard and would be back in my car before I was soaked through. And without the daughter in tow, like the previous week, I could get in and out quickly.
I don’t do a lot of foraging as I am not that knowledgeable about wild edibles, but I do forage for ramps and morels as they are both pretty safe to forage. Both are very distinctive and while there are a few poisonous look alikes, those look alikes are really not that similar once you take a closer look. Now for the CYA, lawyer speak so I don’t get sued – Never eat anything you have foraged unless you are 100% sure of what you have. A forager’s golden rule is “When in doubt, Throw it out!” Please make sure you know what you have before you eat it. No sense in making yourself sick…or worse. Secondly, if you are going to forage, don’t be selfish and strip an area barren. Always leave a few behind for others and to ensure that it comes back year after year.
For those of you not familiar with ramps these alliums, part of the onion family, like moist, sandy soil so are often found near streams and on hillsides close to streams and creeks. They are one of the earlier plants to break soil in spring so finding them is usually quite easy as they tend to rise above the other plants in the area, but by mid May, usually, the other plants have overtaken them making them harder to find and causing the leaves to die back. The leaves are soon replaced by a flower stalk which blooms in early summer. While the bulb is edible all year long, it is best in spring, when the whole plant, bulb and leaves can be used. Ramps are very pungent and have a taste that combines the flavors of onion and garlic, and can be used in place of either, though start out using less and add more if needed.
Creamy Potato and Ramp Soup
3 ribs celery, chopped
1/3 cup ramps, bulbs and stems, no leaves, chopped
2 Tbsp. butter
2 cups half and half
10 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup ramps, leaves only, chiffonnade (a fine julienne)
Combine the celery and ramp bulbs in a large pot along with the butter and saute for 4 minutes, without coloring. Add the potatoes, half and half and enough water to just cover the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the potato are falling apart, about 25 minutes. Puree soup until completely smooth. Return to heat, add a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and add the ramp leaves. Cook for about 4 minutes to wilt the leaves and serve immediately. If soup is too thick thin with just a bit of milk or half and half.