Most of the time I feel like I live exactly where I was meant to be and what a privilege it is. That being said, spring in western Maine is a test for me. Spring in my hometown of Maryville, Tennessee is something so beautiful that there are no adequate words to describe it. There are so many new greens, daffodils, tulips, magnolias, red buds and my favorite dogwoods that seem to pop up almost overnight. So when the weather here starts to warm up and the snow melts, I can feel the possibility in my bones. That means I can sometimes rush to put away those winter clothes, sow seeds for planting, start digging in my garden, and yearn for the day when I can swim in the lake again. As we know here, the weather will always become cool again. When that happens, it’s like a punch in my mind. I know spring snow is supposed to be wonderful for the garden, but lord… It’s hard, and patience has never been one of my virtues.
This year, spring brings the release of our community cookbook, Things We Carry. I would be remiss if I did not thank the many kind souls who shared their treasured recipes and culinary memories with us for the Community Cookbook. I enjoyed reading each of them and now is the perfect time of year to share it with you all. I hope you’ll consider joining us for the launch on Thursday, May 5, 7-9 at Twice Sold Tales.
We’re giving away the cookbook to people who attend the book launch! So… if you’re ready to purchase the cookbook, please consider donating that money to help get 10 more Rustic Roots Farm shares. We will be accepting donations to help support the ten seniors in our community on a waiting list for farm shares. We hope to raise the $1,000 needed to help increase access to healthy food for seniors in our community.
Spring also brings Mom’s birthday (she’s 87) and the search for short-season treasures like fiddleheads, morels and creepers. On the heels of the ramps, a host of other greens begin to appear: dandelions, poke, shawnee lettuce, wool breeches, folds and lamb’s tongue. I didn’t grow up eating fiddleheads, but ramps were something very special. It is also one of the first vegetables to emerge after a long winter. It was a short season treasure that I learned to appreciate thanks to mom. Both because the ramp season is so short and because they have grown in popularity, quantities are limited.
Photos of ramps often show the whole plant, root and all. I’m afraid the images most of us see contribute to their continued scarcity, so if you come across any ramps, please don’t remove the entire ramp from the ground. This can cause permanent damage to the plant and unfortunately harvesting the bulbs actually kills the plants. Worse still, ramps (Allium tricoccum) can take seven years to mature. When foraging on land where you have permission, use your best judgment whenever you encounter a patch of ramps. If that seems thin, I suggest moving on. As you approach thick, healthy patches of ramps, using a small, sharp knife, cut only one leaf from each stem, leaving the bulb and second leaf to continue growing. This has the least impact on the soil, the plant and the colony as a whole.
My favorite option for ramp harvesting is to use them in a way that extends my season to enjoy them. This means that I often make a compound herbal butter with them or dehydrate the leaves. Once completely dried, using the spice grinder, I turn them into powder. I add this powder to salt to make flavored salt, I add ramp powder to broth when making soup. Ramp Butter is a great spread for sourdough toast, rubbed on chicken before roasting, sautéed with vegetables, or on a fillet of salmon fresh off the grill. Use ramp salt in any recipe calling for green onions or leeks.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, heat the oven to 250F. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. (Dried ramps tend to stick to the surface they are cooked on.) Take a handful of washed ramp sheets. Pat them dry with a paper towel. Spread the sheets on the baking sheet so that they are flat and not touching. Bake for 45 minutes or until the leaves are completely dry. Take out of the oven and let cool down. Put the dried leaves in a spice grinder (mine is a coffee grinder that I use just for spices) or a food processor. Pulse until they are powdered. Grind sea salt and mix with ramp powder in a 50/50 mixture.
NOTE: If you want to get a little more sophisticated, grind 1 tbsp pink peppercorns for every ½ cup of ramp/salt mix and add to mix. Store in a covered container in a cool, dry place.
Ramp Compound Butter
1 lb unsalted butter at room temperature
6-8 oz ramp sheets (about 25 large ramp sheets)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from about 1 large lemon)
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Thoroughly wash the ramps. Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil and set aside a bowl of very cold water with plenty of ice. Blanch the ramps in boiling water for only 30 seconds then remove them and plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking and keep the bright green color. Drain and squeeze out as much water as possible. Lay the ramps out on a paper towel to dry. If using a food processor, roughly chop the ramps and add them to the bowl along with the butter, lemon zest and juice. Blend until they reach the desired texture. If you’re not using a food processor, finely chop the ramps and place them in a bowl with butter, lemon zest and juice. Mix until well combined. Salt and pepper to taste as you go. I like to roll butter into logs, like parchment, so they can be cooled and sliced. You can freeze the rolls for months and just cut off what you need and rewrap them tightly.
Ashley Montgomery is from the South and loves collard greens, warm buttery cookies and sweet tea. She married a boy from Maine, works at UMF, and calls Wilton home. She loves cooking, feeding people, learning about other people’s food traditions and will eventually stop being afraid of pressure cookers.