euell gibbons wrote this in 1962 as an introduction to his famed stalking the wild asparagus. if you don't have it in your possession, but do have any interest in foraging your own food, you ought to find it. this book, along with peterson field guide to eastern/central medicinal plants and herbs have been my constant companions this spring as we enter our second month in vermont.
naively i thought foraging would be the last of my concerns on a farm. i imagined my freezer, larder, pantry, root cellar stuffed with goods i had grown. i envisioned a garden brimming with green. isn't that the whole point of farming and gardening? to cultivate both meat and vegetable and do away with foraging and hunting. what i managed to so boldly overlook was the Early Spring. here we are, four weeks into our journey in vermont, and the garden is still mostly bare. we had a light snow cover on saturday. and three frosts in the past seven nights. the cold frame has sprouts. there are trays of starts all over the house wherever there is light or warmth. our stores of last year's soups and preserves are running low. our potato and onion supply have vanished (save for a basket of both that my dear lindsay brought us this sunday). we are certainly not starving. the chickens and cow have made sure of that. but the litany of eggs and milk and milk and eggs every meal for every day can be a bit much to handle.
and so enters the ramp. after our friend molly was here at the farm for a weekend visit she wrote to us:
"since you won't get that gardening going until the snow stops threatening, i wanted to let you know i spied some ramps (edible wild garlic) on your driveway. some vitamin c for you! eat the leaves and the bulbs. it was a drive by ID, but i doubt it can be anything other than that. it's growing on the slope up and down the driveway hillside on your right as you approach that kinda ramshackle run down trailer situation at the first s bend."
i don't know how we would have eaten so well, if it wasn't for her kind note. we went to investigate and sure enough, there were thousands of ramps growing admist the trees just below our milking barn. they are known as ramps in these woods. wild leek or wild garlic to others. but they grow in often abundant populations in rich, wet woods.
since then we have been using the greens and bulbs in salads, in scrambled eggs, in dressings, in potatoes, in soups, and, my favorite, in pesto.
it can serve as the substitute for both the basil and the garlic in your pesto. some like to add parsley to this to temper the power of the ramp (as it is almighty). we don't have any parsley yet, so i added the ramps bits at a time, tasting as i went.
when harvesting the ramp, i recommend a spade to gently dig the bulbs up. like cultivated leeks and onions, ramps are slippery and it is easy to pull just the leaves off while the bulb remains firmly entrenched in her ground.
i use the following imprecisions to make a ramp pesto:
1 1/2 to 2 bunches of ramps; bulbs and leaves a bunch is about a handful
1/2 to 3/4 c EVOO
a pinch (or two) of celtic sea salt
1/2 c parmesan or as much as you want, for this only increases the deliciousness of the pesto
1/3 c crushed almonds, pinenuts, walnuts, whatever.
the beauty of pesto is twofold; you can use any nut or cheese or green you have available AND there is no real science (in my decidedly unscienced brain) to how much of anything you put in. use the above as a jumping off point but then add more of whatever according to your taste.
i have never relied on foraged goods for my survival. and it would be brazen to say that is what we are doing now. but i have a belatedly-found respect for what grows in the woods now. and i must say, i look forward to fostering this new dependence i have with the forest and meadows around us.
have any of you been little mountain foragers this spring? any recommendations for what to find or how to cook it?
as a somewhat obvious caveat: when foraging always consult at least 2 books on the foraged item before eating. photos in plant guides will always differ with what stage in the plant's life they were taken. it is forever a good idea to have a Second Opinion, or even a Third.
and a less obvious caveat but no-less important: don't over-harvest an area when foraging. you want to leave enough for the plant to re-seed itself so that you and the other forest nymphs can enjoy an eternal supply.