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Let the forest-to-table eating begin!

Photos by Briana Juliano

Wild wood leeks (allium tricoccum) also known as ramps, are starting to pop up in damp, woody spots around the Northwest Corner.

These “forest-to-table” veggies are a member of the onion family and grow mainly in the Northeast and Canada. They only grow during April and May, and if you are able to find them in a local grocery store, they can cost as much as  $15 to $18 a pound. Personally, I’d rather take a quick walk into the woods and grab a few for free.

Ramps grow in shady, low-
lying wooded areas — which also mean that where you find ramps, you’ll probably find ticks, especially after the mild winter we just had. Prepare yourself with bug spray (your best bet is one with DEET) and wear tight, light-colored clothing and tall boots or high socks. Check yourself over carefully when you get home and take a soapy shower and shampoo your hair. 

As with any foraging, it’s better if you don’t search alone. Bring a friend or a family member and make it an afternoon hike. 

Most importantly, remember to harvest wisely! It takes seven years for ramps to reach maturity and produce seeds. Never take the bulb! Let me say it again: Never take the bulb! Due to increasing popularity, improper harvesting, commercial harvesting and large “ramp-centric” festivals, the population is decreasing rapidly. That’s not good for ramps, and definitely not good for ramp lovers such as myself! If and when you are lucky enough to find a family of ramps, only take a small percent of the patch and do your best to only remove the leaves.

Ramps are easy to identify by even first-time foragers. Each plant contains two to three leaves with burgundy stems and small white bulbs, similar to scallions. You would think that the basic leaf appearance would make them difficult to distinguish; however, their strong onion scent sets them apart. A common look-alike is a young lily of the valley. Before blooming, this plant has a similar leaf style. 

The entire lily of the valley plant (flowers, leaves, stems and berries) is poisonous. But don’t worry too much; their heavy, almost-plastic-like leaves and sweet scent make them noticeably different from ramps. 

Ramps are not only delicious, they are also a wonderful source of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, and vitamin A, which is good for your eyesight and helps build a strong immune system. 

Historically, ramps were known as a “spring tonic” and one of the first vegetables eaten in the spring to ward off winter illnesses.

I personally prefer to eat my ramps for breakfast with a couple of eggs taken straight from my backyard chickens. Read on for a low-maintenance preparation that never disappoints.

Poached eggs with ramps and toast 

Cut four or five ramps lengthwise, and lightly sauté them in butter over medium heat for about 6 to 8 minutes or until they get soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

In a pot, bring several inches of water to a boil. Lower the water to a simmer and add a splash of vinegar (any kind will do).

Break two eggs (or more, depending on how hungry you are) into the pot, and give the water a quick swirl with a spoon. Stirring the water prevents the eggs from sticking to the bottom of the pan, and encourages the whites to form a nice shape. Cook for 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast up some bread to your liking. Brush with olive oil and top with the ramps.

Once the eggs are done, drain them on a piece of paper towel — carefully, so you don’t break the yolks. Season with salt, pepper  and hot pepper flakes and place on top of the ramps.