In my last post I wrote about our camping trip to Southern Ohio, and the amazing feast of turkey roasted over the open fire. Right next to the fire, we found the most delicious discovery - RAMPS!
Most of my trips to the cabin throughout my childhood were in the heat of summer, way past ramp season. And most of my childhood ramp memories were as a morel mushroom hunting consolation prize, usually eaten raw while walking through the woods. While there is a place for that, their true glory arises when you pull them from the ground and drop them sizzling into brown butter. Oh, glory!
So when I saw that lovely patch of bright green, I might have actually squealed. And then I saw another patch. And another. And then I learned that the woods there is basically carpeted with ramps in the spring, and I have been tramping on their dormant little bulbs every summer of my childhood, not knowing what I was missing!
Foraging for Ramps
Ramps are one of the first woodland greens to push out of the ground in the spring. Look for them in damp, often low-lying wooded areas.Their leaves are bright green, their stalks are red and their bulbs are white. They grow in bunches and look a lot like tulips before they bloom. They're beautiful. Also, I love that you can eat the whole plant, bulbs, stems and leaves! Their flavor is like a garlicky onion that is delightfully woodsy. Their really is nothing quite like them. Their short season and elusive growing habits make ramp season a very special time.
Ramps grow and propagate slowly, so harvest cautiously. Never take an entire clump, always leave more than you take and never take more than you need. If possible, leave their little roots in the ground so they can regrow, or rebury the roots after you cut them off. These guidelines are extra important if you're foraging in a public space where over harvesting is a possibility. In our case, we were foraging on private land where no one else had harvested so we knew we weren't taking more than the population could sustain.
Brown Butter Ramps over the Fire
Since ramps are a precious find, you need to do right by them. Just like any other fresh, high quality ingredient, less is often more. Simply sautéing them in brown butter over the fire is perfection. The greens turn velvety smooth, but not mushy. The flavor mellows to garlicky woodland goodness - spicy, earthy and almost sweet with a touch of smoke.
Since we had a strong fire going to finish up our turkeys, we scooped some coals over to the side and cooked them in our big 15 inch Lodge cast iron skillet. The huge size of the skillet gave extra stability balancing straight on the coals, and gave the ramps enough space to cook evenly in the butter. This is a great tool to have if you do a lot of campfire cooking!
What you need:
Two handfuls of ramps
3-4 TB unsalted butter
How we did it:
Make a pile of coals in an easy-to-reach part of the fire. Place your cast iron skillet on the coals to preheat. It should be hot but not crazy hot!
To trim your ramps, hose off most of the caked on dirt. Use your fingers to slide the little "sock" off the bulb, then trim that off along with the root tendrils. (Rebury the root ends somewhere they could grow back!) Wash the trimmed ramps thoroughly, be sure to wash between the leaves to get out all of the grit.
Next you'll need to separate the bulbs from the leaves. Slice the bulbs (white and red parts) into 1/4 inch pieces and put in one pile. Slice the leaves into 1 inch pieces and place in another pile.
Place your butter in the hot skillet. It will sizzle and crackle a lot, that's ok. Stir butter until it begins to brown. It will be hard to tell in the black skillet, but it should smell nutty and aromatic when browned.
Add the ramp bulbs (white/red parts only!) to the skillet, stirring occasionally until translucent. Next add the greens, stirring occasionally until wilted and coated in butter.
Sprinkle with sea salt to taste.
If you find some ramps this spring, try cooking them over the fire. You will be glad you did!
And whenever you get the chance, head outside and enjoy the glorious spring weather! Find something that makes you as happy as this dirty-faced two year old with rain boots and a creek.