Chow Town

Pickling ramps one way to preserve the flavors of spring

Pickled Ramps
Pickled Ramps

Each season has a flavor and feel all its own.

In the Midwest, sometimes those seasonal flavors can be hazy with long winters or springs seeming to last five minutes before the summer sun descends for months. That is why seasonal foods work like calendars as well as any wall hanging chart with dates and pictures of cute kittens in oversized boots.

Think of the ramp as spring’s version of a moving holiday, celebrated like a holiday when its dates change from year to year.

The time between spring and summer is when natures clock starts really ticking. Some ingredients, like morels, shoot up for only a short time, while others like asparagus and greens last longer, fading out one season into the next before their time is up.

Ramps share the short season scarcity with morels, as they too are temperamental wild ingredients that are at the whim of nature and require the keen eye of a forager to bring them to the table.

As we have discussed before, ramps are a member of the onion family, a garlic and leek like dandy that pops up only in the wild, as unlike others in the allium brethren, it cannot be cultivated conventionally.

When given the short time to enjoy such sublime ingredients, it pays to find ways to preserve the season and extend the life of the fickle spring ramp into summer’s waiting dishes. Enter, the pickle jar.

Pickling and preserving foods are nothing new, the practice goes back millennia to the times when humans had to find ways to sustain their food sources long after they would have otherwise perished. What was once necessity is now more commonly practiced to enhance and flavor as well as preserve, making the modern pickle work like a photograph, capturing and preserving the beauty of its subject in an instant with just the right enhancements to complement its charms. Place your own “pickle-hipster-Instagram” joke here.

All kidding aside, pickles have taken on a huge role in modern cuisine, and rightfully so. People today crave foods that hit on all parts of the palate, from sweet to salty, bitter to tart and savory.

Pickling an ingredient goes a long ways toward that mission, with briny notes carrying salt, sugar and vinegar with the vibrant tastes of spice to harmonize with whatever might be the featured star of the jar.

For ramps, pickling works wonderfully to preserve as well bring out new flavors in these last gasps of spring lovelies. Once your pickles have steadied themselves with a few day stay in the refrigerator, they are fit to be deployed however you desire.

Pickled ramps will pair just as well with a light fish or vegetable dish as they do with a robust, roasted pigs head or charcuterie board. Taste them, you will soon find every dish can use a kiss from these pickled wisps.

Equipped with a jar of freshly pickled spring, you are more than ready to take on a new season of summer dishes.

Pickled Ramps

Makes 2 pint jars

You can add different flavors to your pickles with other whole spices or differerent vinegars. I like to keep it simple enough so that the beautiful ramp flavor comes through in the finished pickle. You can use the trimmed away green leaves for pesto, stir-frying, compound butters and more. These pickles will keep in your refrigerator for weeks, but you could follow the traditional canning/pickling technique to preserve them for longer.

2 pounds ramps, green leaves trimmed away to slender pink stalk

1/2 cup sherry vinegar

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt

1 clove garlic

1 fresh bay leaf

1 teaspoon pink or black peppercorns

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional

Prepare your ramps by trimming away the green leaves at the top, cutting roughly where the stalk begins to turn green. Clean and dry your ramps before placing them into two clean, sterile pint jars. In a pan, bring sherry/rice wine vinegars, water, sugar, salt and spices to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Pour boiling brine into each jar to cover ramps completely, then seal with lids. Allow the pickle jars to cool before putting them in the refrigerator.

Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods.