The Garden State: Ramp Season

After living in Brooklyn for seven years, I moved to New Jersey in 2004. Like most people, mention the Garden State and what came to mind for me was that 20-mile dead zone along the New Jersey Turnpike – all immortalized in the Sopranos’ opening theme…

I’m not here to argue that this hostile perception of New Jersey’s urban areas is false or exaggerated. But what surprises me is how bucolic and pleasant the rest of state is for outdoor people. The past two weekends, my family and I have been hiking at a 2,000-acre park a half mile from our house.

There, I’ve raided several huge patches of “ramps,” also known as wild leeks. They only grow for a few weeks in mid to late April (usually alongside or near streams) and are considered a delicacy among cooks.

I grilled them in a butter/olive oil mixture alongside mahi-mahi – they have a fantastic flavor halfway between scallions and garlic.

I know that Chicago was named after the local Native American term shikaakwa, which means “stinking onion.” I wonder if they were referring to ramps? In any event, go out and get ‘em; they’ll be gone soon.

13 comments on “The Garden State: Ramp Season

  1. Jason… I was in the Pharoah Lakes Wilderness on an extended trip 10 or 15 years ago. One of our crew was a vegan chef who whipped up a fiddle head salad. It was sooo good.

    But the ranger busted us for picking them – he told us they were endangered and it was illegal?

  2. Claude will be appearing soon in a future “Garden State” installment.

    However, he was not happy with the per diem provided by NYSB.

  3. I live WAY north of you James, and our wild leeks are just out. We live on 50 acres of woods in Muskoka, Ontario, and discovered that we are blessed with great expanses of leeks. My wife has been sustainably harvesting them for the last three years. She made wild leek pesto one year, which is good but very labour-intensive. Lately, she just harvests the leaves, cuts them up and dehydrates them. We enjoy leek-infused stuff all year.

    Don’t eat too many at once. They seem to be a great natural laxative!

  4. I was chatting with someone from the Eastern Townships, Quebec yesterday and she mentioned that wild leeks are called “ail des bois” (for lack of a better translation: “forest garlic”) there.

    Due to it being considered to be a rare wild plant, it’;s unlawful to pick it on land that you don’t own.

    Curious SBR, why would wild leek pesto be labour-intensive? Leeks, basil, parmesan or romano cheese, pine nuts or walnuts, and olive oil — throw it in the cuisinart and it’s done? Good suggestion, I may make some!

  5. Well, for us, what you describe is labour-intensive. Mainly, we don’t have a Cuisinart, only a cheesy little micro-imitation of said kitchen gadget. Plus, we pick a LOT of leeks. Like I said, 50 acres. Mrs. SBR is a very motivated leek-picker. As far as I can tell, it is legal to to harvest leeks in Ontario, wherever you are.

    The bad news is, up here, prime leek-picking season is also the peak of black fly season.

    This year, she has an arrangement with a local restaurant, trading leeks for dining out. Win-win for all.

  6. >Ramps…as they are referred to in Southern West by God Virginia, are well known. Its been rumored that teachers and principles alike will send kids home for stinking up the class room. Tried them one night while spring skiing at Snowshoe Wva…while I was slightly drowning in beer, I do recall them tasting just fine.

  7. James, Harv will have to hook us up next season. I was inspired by your post and was able to get a general idea of your location based on the photos (that is why I am reluctant to provide Harv with any of my ski photos)but felt guilty about hitting the same spot so I went on my own foraging adventure with my 8 yr old in another nearby “park”. Armed with a photo of a ramp and some backcountry experience we found our own patch. After a judicious harvest we enjoyed a meal of gnocchi with ramp pesto.

  8. Great to hear that you found some ramps, Zach, and the pesto with gnocchi sounds great. I’m going out tomorrow to see if there are any left.

    I have several foraging posts planned over the next few months, so stay tuned.

    I’ve been trying to get Harv up here for some mountain biking, but he’s tough to pin down unless it involves Gore. 🙂

  9. >James, I have been picking a few leeks lately, they have matured early up here. My newest recipe worked well. Toss in olive oil: chopped leeks, asparagus (peeled if you are a real gourmet) and red/yellow or orange pepper. My ratio was 5 or 6 leeks, one pepper, handful of asparagus. Grill on BBQ in stir-fry thing with holes in it. Stir often. Yum!

  10. >My wife just called from Pathmark, our local supermarket. She was in the produce section and saw "locally-picked ramps" (better not be my stash): $9.99 a pound!

  11. >Looks like Zach is right … post your pics on Harvey Road and everybody and their brother is pillaging your secret stash. 😉

    Actually it ain't so … we post no entrances or descriptions of such. Send em!

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