Our friend Bob Sutherland (who you’ll remember helps us plant our garden seedlings) sent us a email a while back asking if we’d like to join some friends of his on their annual wild leek hunt.

Yes! We replied. Yes yes yes! Having lived in New York city for so many years, we’re well aware of the mysterious awe and gustatory celebration of the very short season of the Allium tricoccum. Chefs around the city prepare special dishes that stay on menus for only a week or two during their availability. In New York city, they’re mainly referred to as “ramps,” but they’re also known around America and Europe as “wild leeks,” “spring onions,” or “ramsons.”

Okay, Bob responded, but there’s one condition – you can’t reveal their location to anyone.

We’re always up for espionage of any sort. Especially if it ends with a meal. And especially if it ends with a meal including ramps.

Though tiny in size, ramps have a powerful flavor – almost a cross between an onion and garlic. But although they have an outsized flavor, they’re still somewhat milder than onions or garlic. They don’t have the stinging bite of their larger, domesticated cousins.

Bob recently emailed again to let us know that the ramps had appeared, and we’d have one shot at harvesting some for ourselves. So we hopped in the truck to drive out to meet Bob at the property of his friends – Kim and Jeff. (No last names to protect the innocent…leeks.)  We were instructed to bring a spade and a basket for carrying our haul. We half-expected to be blindfolded and led into the woods, but apparently we looked trustworthy enough.

This location is a secret. Shh.
This location is a secret. Shh.

On our walk through the woods, Jeff and Kim pointed out their favorite spots to find mushrooms. They’ve collected over 15 different varieties over the years, and have found many dozens more. They’re justifiably cautious about eating any of them until they’ve certified their species beyond a doubt. Wild leeks are an indicator plant for morel mushrooms, alerting a forager to locations where they might find morels a few months hence.

A short distance into the woods Kim pointed out several “Blue Cohosh” sprouts just peeking out from spring earth. Blue Cohosh is related to Black Cohosh, which is used for several holisitic health remedies.

Blue Cohosh
Blue Cohosh shoot.

Soon we came upon islands of green bursting out atop of last autumn’s leaves. The forest floor all around was still grey and brown except for these few patches – some of which measured almost fifty feet square.

Islands of wild leeks (or "ramps.")
Islands of wild leeks (or “ramps.”)

Start digging, Kim instructed. She further advised that we dig only one or two shovelfuls from each patch, to allow them to regenerate for the next year.

An early springtime handful of wild leeks.
An early springtime handful of wild leeks.

As we dug, she explained that while the bulbs leaves die back after only a week or so, the flower stalk appears several months later – all by itself. She found a dried flower with a few seeds from the previous year to show us.

The dried flower and seed pod of a wild leek, or ramp.
The dried flower and seed pod of a wild leek, or ramp.

We each pulled and separated a basketful to bring home with us.

Baskets are great for carrying harvested wild leeks. Excess dirt will be shaken off while walking and fall to the ground.
Baskets are great for carrying harvested wild leeks. Excess dirt will be shaken off while walking and fall to the ground.

All around us the forest filled with a heady sweet onion scent. Though fairly mild tasting, the Allium tricoccum has a potent smell….just ask anyone riding the train back into the city with us later that evening.

by Josh and Brent

Reader Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Chris

I just found a H U G E patch just minutes from my house. The whole area had that wonderful garlicky onion smell. They are still a little young, but was able to harvest a couple bundles. I feel so fortunate to have found them. There’s plenty to eat, share and pickle.

Reply
Matt Petrie

Has anyone had their pickled ramps turn blue? If so are they still edible. I’ve never had this happen before. I pickled some last night and this morning some of the bulbs are a blue/green color.

Reply
Leonard

dug some today and some have the red tint on the leave and stems and some are just white and both taken in same area. the white ones are not as strong as the tinted ones. are these one in the same ?? thanks

Reply
Bruce Osborne

I have recently found hey honey hole and would love to know where to sell. I’m very respectful very knowledgeable on the fact to take only 10%

Reply
MaryAnn

We have two acres and then woods here in Canajoharie. Never sure what they looked like. Thanks for the pictures and will look soon.

Reply
Barbara K.

Thanks. I love your beautifully told, and illustrated forages into the forest and your own property. Love you guys.

Reply
Stella Fouts

We have our own (secret) ramp patch that we harvest from every spring. (Don’t ask me where it is ’cause I won’t tell you!)

Reply
Kathy Bergin

I was wondering if it’s too late to harvest wild leeks? It’s June 18, 2014. thanks!

Reply
Joy Dunseth Jacques

Thanks for the information. I have 14 acres in MN where I hunt for morels, and early on for ramps. But I didn’t understand that the few bunches I found should have been left to grow bigger, so now I’m out. I did finally start to replant but I’m going to buy seeds this year and try to get more growing. I’ve read it could take 5-7 years before I can harvest again. 🙁 I’ll know to be more careful!

Reply
Jess

Here’s a guide I found for growing them yourself. I haven’t seen any near me so I plan to do this and let them take over my tiny city backyard. FYI growing from transplants is easier. You should be able to find someone who has ramps on their property and sells them online freshly dug up.
http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/hil/hil-133.html

Reply
Brad Mac

Hello everyone i currently live in ontario and have picked leeks for about 25yrs we have just pick about 30lbs of them and many more to pick….we have alot of property here and nothing but leeks if anyone is intrested in leeks pls feel free to send me a email…thanks brad

Reply
Natasha Welch

I was wondering if you would ship some leeks when they come in season again? Even already frozen 1s wld be fine. I would pay for the shipping as well. I live in the city & cannot find them here & love them sooo much lol. My email is [email protected].. Thank you

Reply
Kimberly

Hello Brad! I as well live in Ontario and absolutely love wild leeks. Would it be possible for myself and my daughter to come this spring and pick leeks on your property? That would be wonderful. You can find me at [email protected].

Reply
JT

I live in WNY, been eating leeks 44 years or better. I've never seen family make soup out of leeks the size you show. Guess it could be done, but the size in the picture is what we would pick at this time of the year, while fixing fence or cutting firewood and eat immediately, while taking a break from our chores.

The best part of spring was the aroma of the leek, either from being released from being stepped on, or crushed under the tractor tires, as it was today, and the aroma filled the whole woods. That made it easy for us to know where to dig em. But, wasn't necessary, as we can see leeks every which way we look in the woods and hedgerows. So, the part of keeping your leek woods secret, and don't tell anyone!! is totally foreign to me.

Aaaah, someone trying to build suspense.(or a citified attitude)Really, just look and they will be found.

We have always done our biggest leek harvests around Memorial Day, here in WNY.(of corse with this spring and winter, it'll probably be earlier) The leek bulb, then, is about as round as your little finger, of course shorter than, like a scallion, but, much tastier. Our harvest would consist of bushels, and still does or could, with no harm to next years crop.(or they would not still be in the same places my great grandfather dug them )

Therefore, it is totally foriegn to me to hear someone state, only take a few from every plot. Well, that doesnt apply in this neck of the woods.

There was to be made, Leek soup, Leek potato soup, leek jam, leek jelly and dried leeks, or simply eat the raw. I do agree, once you experience the leek , you will never want to be without it again.

Reply
Amanda Nichols

Even if you have a lot, you should definitely pick sparingly. The leek does have seed pods but also reproduces by splitting off from remaining colonies like garlic.

Reply
Barbara Bernhardt

Your Leek & Potato Soup receipe is indeed delicious-sounding, but it is for French leeks (true leeks with fat stems), and not for wild leeks or ramps. But the receipe will work just as well with wild leeks, changing only the way you slice them. When I make this kind of soup with ramps I finely chop the tops and add them shortly before the cream. Don't add them too soon or they'll disappear, they are so tender. I think I'd probably decrease the quantity of wine. Ramps are more delicately flavored than true leeks. Also, as described above in #13.5, discard the thinest portion of the stems (or cook separately until tender, and then add them to the blender mix).

Reply
John Northrup

Hope you will like this:

From News10Now in Syracuse

Monday, December 22, 2008

Potato, Leek and Bacon Soup

By: Dan Eaton

INGREDIENTS:

* 8 slices raw bacon, diced

* 2-3 leeks (for a total of about 12-15 inches white part only)

* 1 Tbs fresh chopped thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme (optional)

* approx. 1 cup white wine (optional but important)

* 4 cups peeled and thinly sliced potatoes

* 4 cups chicken stock

* heavy cream or milk to taste (1-2 cups should be good)

* salt and pepper to taste

* grated cheddar cheese for garnish

PROCEDURE:

Use a large soup pot to sauté 8 or 9 pieces of diced, raw bacon until they're nice

and crisp.

While the bacon is slowly crisping up, slice the white parts of the leeks in half

lengthwise and then thinly slice those crosswise and give them a good rinse under

cold running water, in a strainer or colander, to remove any sand or grit.

Once the bacon is out of the pan and draining on paper towels, add the chopped

leeks right to the pot and add the thyme, if you’re using it, and cook that for a

few minutes until the leeks start to soften up.

Potato, Leek and Bacon Soup

A nice twist on a classic potato-leek soup!

At some point, while all of this is going on, you should have time to peel and thinly

slice 4 cups of potatoes.

Just before adding the potatoes, add a splash of white wine and let that cook down

for a minute, and then add the potatoes and just enough chicken stock to cover,

approximately 4 cups.

Bring that up to a boil and adjust the heat so that it is at a nice simmer and let it

cook until the potatoes are nice and soft. The thinner you slice the potatoes, the

faster they're going to cook and, once you're happy that they’re nice and soft,

use a hand blender to puree everything.

Add a little heavy cream or milk as you go until you're happy with the consistency.

Turn the heat off and season with salt and pepper to taste and it's ready to serve.

Garnish with a sprinkling of cheddar cheese and some of the crispy bacon pieces.

HINTS:

Saute the bacon separately and use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock for

individual vegetarian options at the dinner table.

Reply
John Northrup

To: #13 Hi Barb. I believe my brother and I introduced leeks to the Montague Inn a few years back. We harvested a bumper crop, and the Inn was having their Grand Opening that evening. We cleaned up a bunch of our leeks and took them in, where we got the bartender to reluctantly put them on the bar in glasses of water. After a few customers tried them, of course everyone had to eat a few in self defense.

Somewhere I have a good potato leek soup recipe I will post if I can find it.

Great Blog!
http://winteridge.wordpress.com

Reply
Terry Lyle

Really enjoyed this info on wild leeks. I'm slowly reintroducing them into my wooded areas. They grow abundantly in the forests around here (south western New York State). My small woodlot is the perfect location and now I can easily enjoy fresh leeks each spring. Not quick picking time here yet.
You might enjoy my Squido page on wild leeks.
http://www.squidoo.com/WILD_LEEKS_RAMPS

Reply
Barbara Bernhardt

For K. Martin:

Your site sounds as opposite of where my ramps grow wild as possible (except for the "dappled sun" part. Mine grow in quite shady areas of a wet, acid, forest floor. However, they do come in earliest spring, before the leaves are fully out on the trees, so maybe they get more sun than I thought. If you could acidify a small area with tons of forest-floor humus and leaf litter, keep it well-watered the year around (I mean so wet it's almost, but not quite, marshy), give it a canopy for really bright, hot days, and find some way to keep them cool, you might be able to grow ramps. It may be that they need a cold-weather period. Here, during winter, the temperature hovers around twenty most of the time, but cold snaps of minus 20 are possible (we had one this past winter that lasted four days) and two or three weeks may go by without the thermemeter going above zero to ten above. We only have one or two days per summer that get into the high eighties or low nineties, and my memories of Texas … Oh, and someone suggested they may need altitude. Mine is 1750 feet. The good news is that they do seem to "melt away" when the season for them is over. You can't find them except in earliest spring. Mine haven't started yet, but I still have a foot or two of snow on the ground. You can tell when to stop bothering with them when the tips of the leaves start to turn yellow. Gradually the tops become unusable, and then they are completely hidden until next spring. The bulbs are still under there, though, and the forest floor stays wet. Most years. I suppose you could continue to dig them, but where are they? Also, other kinds of onions are bigger and juicier and are coming in as the ramps are on their way out.

Cheer up, though. I can't grow okra, soy beans, blackeyed peas or eggplants. Some years my sweet corn doesn't ripen in time and it's a race every year even to get decent Brussels sprouts. I can grow very nice carrots, but nothing like those big juicy foot-long ones that come from Texas.

Reply
K. Martin

I bought ramps online and tried to grow them here in North Texas. Almost as soon as I planted them (in a sun-dappled, shady spot), they seemed to sort of "melt" away. My soil is very high pH (limestone). Maybe that was the problem? We are sort of hilly around here, at best — no significant elevaton. Or maybe it just gets too darn hot here for ramps. Ramps are a new thing to me, and I so wanted to be able to grow them, but it looks like if I ever want to taste them, I'll have to buy them online for cooking, as well.

Reply
Barbara Bernhardt

Stephanie: My altitude is 1750 feet on the Tug Hill plateau in NY. I have never heard that this improves the ramps, but it could well be. Other contributors to this conversation are in Tennessee and West Virginia, both states which include hilly areas.

Reply
Stephanie Murrell

I love the ramps and have always eaten them, but I have never hunted for them in the wild. I know the habitat to find the leeks, but is there an elevation reguirement? I once heard 1200 and above, Is this true?

Reply
Barbara Bernhardt

I just saw where I sent a posting for this site last year! Sorry.

The web site I have is called Barb's Organic Garden and it is listed on LocalHarvest.com, AdirondackHarvest.com, NOFANY.org and probably a few others, but I don't have my own website. If you want to come dig you can find me through one of those. Also check out [email protected] and NewYorkMarketMaker ([email protected])

Or email me direct.

Reply
Barbara Bernhardt

I have been selling leeks from my woods in the local Farmers' Market for some ten years now. Some things I read in your postings that I will comment on:

1.Your photograph of an open field at the top looks just like several places on my property, but the leeks do not grow there. They grow only in the forest, and you have several photos that could have been taken on my place.

2. That tale about not being allowed into school after having eaten them on the way is the first thing people tell me about their childhood memories of leeks. If I had been the teacher I would have requested the offenders to bring enough for everyone next time. End of problem.

I actually have never found them that strong and I wonder if this is one of those genetically variable traits that some people have and others don't, like the "bitter" taste of broccoli or brussels sprouts. Comments pleas, if anybody knows.

3. A place called Montague Inn, a popular bar for snow-sledders, 4-wheelers and where the kids come for Wing Nights because they can afford it (1 doz wings for $4.95), serves free leeks and limburger cheese at the bar for a few weeks in spring, finding that this increases beer consumption significantly.

4. No one around here calls them "ramps" and when my French leeks come ready in the late summer I have had people who refused to allow as how those were leeks at all.

5. Somebody recommends trimming the top inch off the leaves. Why? That just wastes some of the tender tops. I do, however, cut away the skinny part of the stalks. About two inches there can be discarded. They are edible, if you cook them, but why bother when there are so many and no matter how many you dig there are more next year. Of course I don't supply fancy restaurants in Manhattan, and I have to pay someone $10.00/hour to dig them, so I can't really afford to make a dent in my supply. I only dig from one "island" and I have other islands as far as the eye can see.

6. I sell them for $1.25 for a bunch of 15. They are certified organic (by NOFA-NY). If anyone wants to have some you can come and dig your own for that price. Or buy them in our Farmers' Market for the last two weeks in May. I still have two feet of snow on the ground, so to hear that somewone already has them is amazing!

7. One way I fix them is to shred the leaves and saute them in butter. Gently please. They are so tender they'll go away if you cook them too long. Try using whole leaves, raw, in place of, or combined with, lettuce on a sandwich. Chop the leaves and mix with chopped sprouts in a salad or sandwich. Mince the raw bulbs and put a tablespoon or so scrambled with a couple of eggs for breakfast. Add some chopped leaves as you would spinach. Mince or slice the bulbs thinly and serve on a hamburger, or use as onions in meatloaf, or stew or anywhere. No onions are ready so early, and why buy them if you can find them fresh?

Reply
Stephanie Murrell

I was born and raised in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. When I was a little girl, every spring my grandmother would invite me to spend the weekend to feast on fresh ramps with pinto beans, stewed potatoes and ever else that came from last years gardens harvest. Moma, would not let me come back home until the smell of ramps was gone. Anyone who have eaten them knows you even have to sweat them out. Great site, great info., great pictures. I can't wait!

Reply
Dr. Brent

We can hardly wait for the ramps, too, Stephanie. We just know they're already starting stir under this 4 feet of snow

Reply
Barbara Bernhardt

I dig wild leeks every year (they last for 3 to 5 weeks) and sell them in the Lowville Farmers Market. I get $1.25 for a bunch of 12-15 and I usually sell about 30 bunches a week. There's a local bar where they put free leeks and Limburger cheese out on the bar. They advertize this in advance and the place is packed. Maybe in other parts of NY they are called ramps, but I never heard that name until I had been selling them for several years. Around here they're called "leeks", and there is oft repeated folklore that the older folks tell about eating them on the way to school and being sent home by the teacher. I would have told them "next time bring enough for the whole class!! Elementary school around here was in one-room schoolhouses until the 60's.

Reply
gail hunt

In West Virginia, where they are called "ramps," kids who ate wild leeks were sometimes told not to come into school the next day because the smell was so pungent. I'm sure that was an incentive for some kids to eat them!

Reply
wvhunter27

and if you keep a bout a 1/8 of the bulb above the roots on the ramps you can replant them an they will grow nexted year thats what we did an are patch is big we been doing it for 3 to 4 years now an i wanted to share my pictures with you all.

Reply
wvhunter27

yes i was woundering if you all had a picture page where people can post pic of the ramps they pick?

Reply
Dr. Brent

Hi,

We would love to see your photos! On the right hand column of the gardening homepage you'll see a box that says "Reader's Share". You can submit your photo there.

Reply
K. Martin

So you do eat the green part as well as the white portion and bulb then, correct? Just trim it back an inch or so?

I will prepare them as you suggest when they are of size, probably next year or the year after?

Thanks again.

Reply
Dr. Brent

oh yes! in fact, the greens are my favorite part
good luck with the transplanting. Be sure and send us a photo next year before the big harvest

Reply
K. Martin

I've just bought some of these online and am eager to try my hand at growing them in my home garden — the shady part.

I read from numerous online sources that ramps may become endangered (if not already), so that's another reason of mine to try cultivating them.

Do you have any good recipes you'd be willing to share using ramps? I've never had them but from the sound of them, it seems they could be interchangeable with onions, garlic or leeks in any recipe. But if you have a recipe that truly showcases ramps and only ramps, I'd love to have it, as maybe other readers would, too.

Reply
Dr. Brent

We think the flavor of ramps is so subtle that it's best not to adulterate them. Savor them as one of the first gifts of the growing season. Trim the leeks by cutting off the roots and the top inch of the leaves. Simmer in a skillet using salted water or chicken stock until they are tender. Drain. Rinse under cool water. Pat dry and then serve with your favorite vinaigrette.

Reply