Monday, May 23, 2011



Is anyone still out there in Slice of Pie Blogland?

Sorry about my hiatus there, but I was spending my spare time (ha ha) with a new kitchen adventure. Yes blog readers, it's true. I have cheated on you with another food related endeavor. But it had good intentions and I will not apologize. And I promise to tell you all about this mysterious "other endeavor" very soon.

But back to more important things.


Allium Tricoccum. Ramson. Wild leeks. Ramps. If a spring onion and a clove of garlic secretly met for one night in an act of beautiful, pungent passion and inadvertently made a lovechild, it would be the ramp.

During early spring, if you go to any restaurant that prides itself on using fresh local in season produce, odds are they will be offering something on the menu right now that features ramps. Grilled, in salads, on pizza, in pasta – wherever the taste of garlic and/or onions is warranted. And in my opinion that's practically anywhere except maybe in a bowl of cereal... hmmm.

Jon and I have used them in grilled cheese sandwiches, butter sauces and butter spreads, pickled, sauteed, grilled, dried and deep fried. We even use the brine from the pickled ramps for salad dressings and sauces. Ramps are the best secret ingredient ever!

Dammit. I probably shouldn't have told you that. Forget it. Stop reading. Ramps SUCK. DO NOT go to the farmer's market to buy them! I repeat: STAY AWAY FROM THE RAMPS.

You know why? I'll tell you why.

Because every year, when the weather starts to warm oh so slightly and the prospect of Spring starts to peek its smiley little (metaphorical) head around the (metaphorical) corner, my rampdar goes off.

... they're coming... 

"Jon. Do you think they have them yet?"
"No. They're not out until mid-April."

"Jon. Do you think they're there now?"
"No. A few more weeks."

"Jon. Are they there yet?"
"Are they there yet?"
"Are they there yet?"

This year, it happened while I was perusing restaurant websites looking for tasty things, a normal day. And there it was. The Spotted Pig homepage. It featured an illustration of a pig portioned out for butchering with a speech bubble. The pig was exclaiming "WE HAVE RAMPS!"

My rampdar went wild. 

... they're heeeeee-eeerreee!

The following is the actual Gchat correspondence that followed; Tuesday, April 5th, 2011:

5:20 PM me: is it ramp time yet? The Spotted Pig has ramps already. we should check the farmer's market this weekend.
5:24 PM Jon: I dont think so they are most likely getting thiers from down south
5:31 PM me: ASSHOLES!

Surely, if I made it this far, I could survive another rampless week or two. And I did. Unfortunately so did every other ramp fanatic and chef in this frigging city.

You see, obtaining ramps is a bit like trying to get your hands on killer concert tickets – Lady Gaga or whoever the kids are listening to these days. The early bird gets the worm/tickets/ramps. This urgency comes from the fact that ramps are only available for a few precious early spring weeks and then they disappear, just as suddenly as they arrive, for the entire year. So you go to bed reasonably early Friday night and remember to set the alarm. No snooze button, no dawdling, no leisurely brunches. It's out of bed and straight to the farmer's market, and directly to Rick Bishop, the most prominent ramp guy. (Usually I wouldn't even share that information with you in the fear that it may help you beat me to the last bunch of ramps come next Saturday, but Rick and his offerings are so awesome that they deserve the shout out, and you deserve to experience them.) Don't even think about looking at other vendors first. Find Rick and get the gold. If you wait too long, then those damn fancy chefs come along and swipe up massive chef handfuls for their kitchens to use and you are left to wait yet another week, RAMPLESS.

Having plenty of pickled ramps will hold you over until they're in season again...

A few weeks ago, I knew it was time. The alarm went off and soon Jon and I were running RAMPant (har har) through the farmer's market. We spotted the booty and staked our claim. My rampdar had been spot on. It was the very first weekend ramps were available.

In the past weeks, Jon and I have been going to the market and it seems that this spring a big handful of vendors have caught ramp fever and are now carrying them. And they're making bank: a small bunch of these babies – about six – costs a whopping $3. I've seen them go for $4. We usually buy $15 to $30 worth at one time.

What I haven't told you yet is that like mushrooms, ramps are not grown, they need to be foraged. So realizing the monetary potential, these vendors are either beginning to cultivate ramps (which is rare and is an undertaking of a few years before you can harvest them) or have forayed into foraging.

And all of a sudden, there was that voice in my head that makes me do weird things again. The spring air had apparently awoken it.

Save your dollars.

Not you. What now?

Stop buying ramps.

Are you out of your – er – uh, my mind?

Stop BUYING ramps... go find them!

Now why didn't I ever think of that? I love hiking! I have a pretty good bearing on the wilderness of the NY/NJ area, AND thanks to years of gardening chores growing up, I am quite an efficient weed digger. Hell, I've probably walked past ramps a million times! Greenmarket be damned! We're going foraging!

The very next weekend, two derby friends and I found ourselves standing way off the trail in the middle of a forest at what I believed to be the perfect location for ramps: moist grainy dirt, adequate shade, running water.

We looked.

And looked.

And looked.

We found lots of stuff...

a leaf bug
a swampy moss covered log
a tiny morel mushroom
a dead frog
a live frog

... but not a single ramp. Anywhere.

I was getting discouraged. In my research for this trip, I was convinced they would be here. How could they not? It's a weed that grows crazy along the entire Appalachian mountain range from the Carolinas all the way to Maine. Had the damn hipsters made it this far away from the city and taken them all already? Can you get that far on a fixed gear bike???

Harumphing, we finally called it quits. We decided to get back on the trail and finish the loop. At least we'd get a beautiful hike out of the whole affair. I'd just have to figure out a substitute for the ramp bouquet I promised Jon who was stuck working.

Somewhere between encountering some really pointless historical placards (like one for a house built in the 1950's and was then torn down in the 1960's) and getting all turned around because of a really poorly executed trail marking system, Justin tapped me on the shoulder. "Pie... is that one?"

Could it be?
I paused in bewilderment. Is it? I squatted and ripped off a piece of the leaf and sniffed. The familiar stink filled my nose. I gasped and began digging.

"IT'S A RAMP!" I exclaimed as I pulled the white bulb from the dirt. We danced an jumped a bit as we looked around. And sure enough, there they were, happily growing in little patches in the grainy, shady soil, right next to a large stream...

... and the trail. Well, this should be interesting. We were actually ramping illegally: you are not allowed to forage inside a NY State park. The original plan was to find some secluded patches by following the streams way off the trails away from the eyes of rangers (and other ramp lovers). We thought for a moment. We had gotten this far in our excursion and now the little fuckers were right in front of our faces, reeking of awesomeness.

Laws or no, the people would have their ramps.

So we began to dig.

That's $3 right there

There was something completely satisfying about the process of plunging your bare hands into the cold wet dirt and pulling out pure food. It was very primal and familiar and probably the most intimate way I can think of to get your food: straight from the source to your hands, with not a single middle man. You learn a lot about your food this way. For instance, that ramps love to grow beneath pricker bushes. Fun.

We foraged responsibly, making sure to leave the baby ones and not wipe out entire patches, and figured we had about $30 worth of garlicy booty in our bag. After about an hour of digging, we called it quits. We were only about halfway through the trail loop and the ramp patches seemed to peter off after that spot, so we washed our hands in the river and went on our merry way.

As we continuted through the woods, brainstorming all of the ways that we would use our newly accquired bounty, we were stopped dead in our tracks.

No way. Not this, and not now! After finally overcoming all of the impossible odds of the day and finally emerging victorious, I couldn't believe that this was happening. Ramp gods! How could you taunt me so? I clutched my beloved ramps a little closer and sighed a quiet expletive.

There, looming before us in the diminishing light beckoning us closer was the last thing we ever expected to encounter:


Ramp angel!

We weighed our options and sadly decided to leave Ramptopia unscathed. Our bag was full and we had crammed all the dirt we possibly could under our fingernails already. We gawked for a while longer and snapped an iPhone picture to preserve the coordinates of our new found secret wonderland.

We would be back.

Grow well, little rampies. We shall meet again next spring for some more foraging. Possibly with a much larger bag.