Ramps live a short life. As a spring ephemeral they’ve evolved in a cool way: they grow quickly during the spring thaw, taking advantage of the lack of tree cover and stealing all the sunlight before most other plants even know whats happening.
If you are in the habit of picking your own, you will notice their growing cycle. The first sign that their season is beginning to end is that you will begin to see to leaves that are starting to change color and turn yellow. Decomposing, yellowing ramp leaves don’t look appetizing; most people would agree.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret though: if you like to make pickled ramps, the late season is one of the best times to harvest them. Why you ask? Well, the leaves may be undesirable for eating, but that doesn’t mean that the ramp is dead, quite the opposite. The little bulb underneath the yellowing leaves is still going strong, and it’s at this time that you can harvest ramp bulbs with the greatest girth.
There is a caveat to know about ramps that are picked in the late season though. Just like some other vegetables, (what comes to mind for me is turnips and root vegetables that have been held in a cellar) the texture of the ramp bulb changes throughout it’s life cycle. In the beginning of the spring, the ramps are tiny and haven’t even created “bulbs” yet.
Eventually the layers of the ramp bulb grow tough and fibrous, they can become chewy or stringy when eaten. This can be confusing if you prepared ramps early in the same season, since those picked early only take a second to cook, and can lose their flavor easily when combined with too many other things. Mid to late season ramps are much stronger in flavor; with that comes the corollary fibrous texture.
Taking the texture into account means that you might want to treat late season ramps a bit differently than normal in the kitchen. Since the characteristic red stem of the ramp might also be slimy and slightly decomposed, you need to trim it off. What you get left with is a large ramp bulb. I’ll share something with you that I like to do with them, in case you may never have thought of it: cooking the ramp bulb like a vegetable.
Usually we think of cooking ramps as if they were garlic. For the “vegetable” technique, just imagine that the bulbs are cipollini or pearl onions. By sauteing the bulbs, putting a little color on them, and then adding liquid and cooking until they’re tender, the ramps become more like a braised, soft onion than a garlicky seasoning. It’s a great way to use ramps; they’re a rich addition to any meal.
Here’s a simple method to try it sometime if you find late season bulbs, but it works well with ramps that have some of the red stem still attached as well. Just don’t try to cook whole ramps with their leaves like this, the leaves have a much shorter cooking time than the bulbs and will be stringy and overcooked before the bulb is tender.
Honey Glazed Late Season Ramps
These are great as a side dish, served alongside meat or fish, or as part of a vegetarian entree. I like to make these in a 10 inch saute pan with a lid.
Serves 4 as a side dish
- 1 lb ramp bulbs, preferably large, late season bulbs
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Tbsp honey
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup stock or water
- 2 tbsp cooking fat, like grapeseed oil, animal lard, etc
- Heat the oil in a wide saute pan until lightly smoking. Add the ramps and cook on medium high heat until they are browned and lightly caramelized, shaking the pan occasionally to promote even browning. Season the ramps to taste with the salt. When the ramps are nice and colored, deglaze the pan with the stock or water, add the honey, vinegar and cover the pan and cook until the ramps are tender, about 10 minutes.
- When the ramps are cooked through and soft, reduce the liquid in the pan until it becomes a sweet, syrupy glaze. Turn off the heat, serve immediately.