Ramps are a wild onion found in clumps in Northeastern woods all the way to Canada. The are in season only in the spring. But they are similar to scallions and green onions and this recipe works fine on them. In fact it works on any onions!
According to historians, the river that ran by the native American village near the mouth of the giant lake was lined with wild onions, most likely ramps or wild leeks. In the The Encyclopedia of Chicago, Ann Durkin Keating says "The name 'Chicago' derives from a word in the language spoken by the Miami and Illinois peoples meaning 'striped skunk,' a word they also applied to the wild leek (known to later botanists as Allium tricoccum). This became the Indian name for the Chicago River, in recognition of the presence of wild leeks in the watershed. When early French explorers began adopting the word, with a variety of spellings, in the late seventeenth century, it came to refer to the site at the mouth of the Chicago River."
Ramps are like other onions, an underground bulb and long tall green grasslike stalks. Ramps are much smaller than leeks, more like scallions, but the leaves are flatter. They are most tender and tasty in spring, and as with robins, when they arrive I know spring is really here. Onion stalks are the first thing edible to push up in spring, and a chomp on raw ramps is my first celebratory rite of spring.
Ramps propagate rapidly and a handful planted in spring will produce a bucketful by late summer. Like scallions, served raw, they add a pungent bite to salads, and can be stir fried or grilled as a side dish or topping for meats.
When pickled, they are sweet, sour, tangy, and a great relish to accompany BBQ and grilled foods. Add them to coleslaw. Top a burger or pulled pork sandwich. Or any sandwich for that matter. Toss into a salad or into grilled veggies.
I fell for the pickled ramps by Chef Rick Gresh as a side dish. I asked for his permission to publish his recipe and he gave me the go-ahead with the request that I disclose that his recipe is based on one by eminent Chef Tom Colichio. With his permission, here's Chef Gresh's recipe for pickled ramps, slightly modified by Yours Truly. Try them on a pulled pork sammie or on hot dogs. Please note, these are refrigerator pickles, which means they must be kept chilled.
Pickled Ramps Recipe
Sweet, sour, tangy pickled onions or ramps are a great relish on the side, or topping on BBQ and grilled foods. Ramps are much smaller than leeks, more like scallions, and are most tender and tasty in spring. Like scallions, served raw, they add a pungent bite to many dishes but they truly shine when pickled.
Makes. About 1 quart of pickles
Takes. About 40 minutes to make, and 5 days to age
1 pound ramps, including leaves
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon whole celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 whole bay leaf
About the ramps. You can use regular old onions in this recipe and they are just as good.
1) Clean the ramps, removing the large green leaves. You can use them in a vegetable dish, or wilt them in a pan and serve them as a topping on meats or other dishes. They're good on pizza or chopped into rice and couscous.
2) Combine everything except the ramps and bring to a boil. Keep the liquid in the hot pan and let it cool for about 30 minutes. Refrigerate.
3) Boil a pot of water and drop the ramps in for about 20 seconds. This is called blanching and it alters the chemistry of the bulbs, and pastuerizes them. Quickly drain the pot into a colander and run cold water over the ramps for about a minute to shock them and rapidly stop the cooking.
4) Put the ramps in a very clean jar and cover them with the cool pickling liquid. Refrigerate for 5 days before using, and keep refrigerated for months.
"I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard. It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail."HL Mencken