By Tyler Augst, government and community vitality Extension educator in Southeast Michigan
Like a lot of Michiganders, the first signs of spring have me itching to head out into the woods looking for a state delicacy: the morel. Any mushroom hunter will know that sometimes you strike out, though. It was on one of those recent strike-outs in our back forty that my partner and I stumbled into some patches of another tasty Michigan wild edible: ramps!
Ramps, also known as wild leeks (Allium tricoccum) are native to the eastern part of North America, including Michigan. They prefer rich, moist soils under the shade of larger trees (here are some tips for spotting them). We found ours in some wet, dark soil near a creek. With their broad, green leaves and red stems, ramps are a little easier to spot out in the woods than their elusive fungi friends.
In addition to being found out in the forest, ramps might also crop up at your local farmer’s market during April and May. They are known for their garlic- and onion-like flavor, which is strongest in the white bulbs but which can also be tasted in the stems and leaves. The bulbs taste great anywhere you would use onions or garlic in cooking. The leaves can be used in the same way that collard greens or broccoli rabe would be used.
Since we were lucky enough to have found many ramps on this recent outing, we decided to freeze the bulbs and blanch and freeze the leaves. Now we have a taste of spring to add to holiday dishes this fall and winter. I love adding them to an egg scramble or serving with venison for a localvore feast.
For more on storing vegetables and fruits, be sure to check out Michigan Fresh: Blanching and Freezing Foods. To harvest more sustainably remember to:
- Take only what you will use.
- Take only some from each patch and then move on.
- Use a digging stick to minimize damage to surrounding plants.
- Consider harvesting only leaves or using a knife to cut and leave the roots in the ground.
How to store ramps
- Clean your ramps. We filled large pots with water to wash the dirt off, then removed any remaining roots or outer loose layers. We rinsed the leaves in water three different times to make sure all the dirt and potential stowaways were gone.
- Cut your ramps at the base of the leaves and separate your bulbs and leaves.
- The bulbs are ready to be frozen as-is. Lay them out on a baking sheet and place in the freezer. Once they have frozen through, package into labeled bags for storage.
- The leaves should be cooked before freezing. Cut your leaves to your desired size, then blanch them in water. This is done by submerging the leaves in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, then transferring them to a bowl of cold water for another 3 minutes, as this immediately stops the cooking process. This is best done with about two cups of leaves at a time in a large stock pot.
- Drain the excess water from the blanched ramps and package into labeled bags for storage.