They are abundant, natural and springing up on plates at bistros, farmers market kiosks and on grocers’ shelves. Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are at their peak in mid-May in parts of Maine. Like most things worth waiting for, the season is short, so don’t hesitate for this taste of spring.
Foragers and fresh food distributors are leafing out with this garlicky edible, a member of the onion family, right now. In the next week, farm stands such as Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth and stores such as Tiller and Rye in Brewer will begin selling ramps — something they expect to continue until early June.
At the Crown O’Maine Organic Cooperative, a distributor of locally grown produce based in Vassalboro, employees are working diligently to get wild gathered ramps to eager customers this week.
“They will sell very fast,” said Tammy Ember, a customer service and sales representative for the cooperative. “We will sell out in a matter of hours.”
Ember helps chefs dream up ramp-inspired dishes. Her favorite is oyster mushrooms sauted with ramps and tucked into a tart with cheese, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. She also suggests recipes such as wild ramp pesto from blog Food52 as gourmet go-tos.
“The taste is like a balanced mixture of garlic and onion. They’re pungent, to say the very least,” said Ember.
Wild foraged foods such as ramps and fiddleheads add variety to menus and offers something deeper.
“Our food system is getting so out of whack that more people are getting back in touch with food,” said Frank Giglio, a trained chef who eats and forages seasonally on Three Lily Farm in Thorndike. “The seasons depict what I work with. Naturally I want to eat what’s fresh and in season.”
Giglio has been foraging ramps for years. To harvest sustainably, he picks only leaves (one from each stock) and returns in the fall to harvest the bulbs.
“They are the most succulent now,” said Giglio, who rough chops the green leaves and sautes them in butter to give scrambled eggs more zest and frittatas added flair.
Though this “spring was a strange one,” with several feet of snow that finally thawed, “now things are bursting,” said Giglio.
Ramps are everywhere. But where to find them? A good rule of thumb is to look for their broad, green leaves near patches of fiddleheads.
“They grow in clusters, a large amount in small places,” said Giglio. Investigate “sandy river banks or on the edge of the forest.”
Though fiddleheads seem to be hogging the limelight, ramps are coming on as a popular spring ingredient. And for good reason. They are rich in vitamin A, B and have 2.6 times the amount of vitamin C as oranges per serving, according to the Delta Institute of Natural History.
What should you do with ramps?
“Brush them with olive oil, salt and pepper and a few chili flakes on the grill,” said Ember, after trimming the hairy parts. Lay grilled ramps on top of pizza, or add slices to sandwiches with other roasted vegetables such as peppers.
“Ramps are more universal when grilling. You can also pickle the white burgundy bulbs,” she said. “It’s a great spring vegetable.”
Look for ramps at these retailers starting Wednesday through early next week: Tiller and Rye in Brewer, Rising Tide Community Market in Damariscotta, Belfast Co-op, Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Portland and Scarborough and Rosemont Markets in Portland and Yarmouth.