Monday, May 28, 2007
Pickled Ramps - Packing Up Spring
Is spring over already? Is a month all we get? It seems like yesterday I was gushing over the first pea shoots and wintered-over broccoli rabe. But Friday was the River Garden’s last day of lily of the valley at the market (I bought 3 bunches for good measure), it topped 90 degrees at the Yankee game on Saturday, and the ramps are looking swollen and yellowed. Fortunately, there is always a silver lining, and the end of ramp season, when the bulbs are biggest, is the perfect time for pickling.
Preserving of any kind has always felt a little like packing away the Christmas decorations to me. There’s a sense of sadness that something so looked-forward-to is ending, but there’s also comfort in “putting up,” whether that means knowing broken ornaments have been repaired and stored or lining a shelf with a year’s supply of raspberry jam, fresh from the harvest.
Now, at this point you may be asking yourself why this site isn’t named Figs, Olives, Ramps, and I hear you. I have been on a ramp kick, and I promise this is the end. But, until surprisingly recently, that’s what eating was always like – and still is in more rural parts of the Mediterranean.
The late, great food historian Piero Camporesi, whom I’ve mentioned before, wrote much on the anticipation and hunger that led up to harvest time, the rush of feasting when a crop was finally ready, and the satiation people felt by the end of a season – which is when they started craving the next crop. It’s a connection to the seasons that was always taken for granted, and that we now make much of trying to recapture.
And besides, a pickled ramp is a glorious thing, whether laid atop a rich paté, heaped on a cheese board, or submerged in an icy martini. I’m of the no-sugar persuasion when it comes to these pickles, and, after many trials and some kind advice from Beth of Beth's Farm Kitchen, this is my version, naturally sweet with fennel seed and earthy with black pepper and bay.
I didn’t can these. I only made 1 jar, and, though I know it's ridiculous, I'm a little scared I’ll give my lovely husband botulism. But pickles of this sort should keep for at least 6 months in the fridge. Use distilled water and vinegar to keep them longer. And, if you want to can your ramps, the buck stops at Linda J. Amendt’s Blue Ribbon Preserves. She really knows everything about the fine art of putting up and gives wonderful trouble-shooting advice as well.
I should add that, if your ramps still have nice green leaves, Beth says they freeze very well. Wash and dry them, roll them in paper towels and seal in freezer bags, and you’ll have the garlicky greens at hand all year for scrambled eggs, salad dressings, and soups. Don’t hold onto any yellowed or bruised leaves (or bulbs for that matter). As the saying goes, one bad ramp spoils the whole bunch.
1 very clean quart jar (or 2 pint jars, etc.)
5 bunches ramps (about 3 – 4 cups of cleaned, trimmed bulbs)
2 cups white vinegar (or distilled if using)
2 cups water (distilled if using)
5 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp whole fennel seeds
30 black peppercorns
5 fresh bay leaves
Preheat the oven to 500 F
Sterilize your jar by putting it in the oven for at least 30 minutes. Remove with tongs, and be careful not to touch the jar. Remember that hot glass looks the same as cool glass!
Clean the ramps carefully. Trim off the root end and the leaves. Discard any bruised or blemished bulbs.
Boil a pot of water and place the cleaned bulbs in a sieve. Dip them in and out of the water once. The quick blanch removes some of the air from the plant cells, preparing them to better absorb the brine.
Meanwhile, heat the vinegar, water, and salt in a pot over high heat. Put the fennel seed and peppercorns into the jar. Pack the ramp bulbs and bay leaves into the jar. When the salt has dissolved and the brine comes to a boil, pour it over the ramps. Tap the jar with a wooden spoon to help free some of the air bubbles.
Once the brine has cooled to the point that it no longer steams, seal the jar and place in the refrigerator. The ramps should be ready to eat after a day.