Because of the mild winter and untimely warm days before the equinox, ramps were up early in our region. Instead of the usual April 15 to early June; we started harvesting in early March. But my inner ramp calendar has me heading back to the woods in June.
Once the leaves die back (starting at about the 5th week of their growth cycle the leaves yellow and wilt, breaking down quickly) ramps are impossible to see until they sprout the long stem of their pending blossom.
But for the first week of June I was been digging in familiar spots, using last year’s dried seed heads as a sign, and then raking away the leafy mulch to dig out the fat white bulbs. The season for cooking ramps is past, now the fattest white bulbs are going into a curry pickle and the slenderest are brining for a future as cocktail onions.
I’ve been digging ramps for about a decade and I’ve stayed away from making pickles until now. I always thought that there were far more interesting things to do with ramps than soak them in vinegar. And though I love to extend the season, I did so by freezing, making pestos, white purees and butters to use through fall. But this year, having made sauerkraut and reading more about the fermenting craze (and the benefits of adding these good bacteria to the diet)*, I decided to try pickling– classic dill, curry and cocktail style.
*As a follow-up to my earlier posting, Jennifer C educated me on the difference between vinegar pickling and lacto-fermentation. I can see in my future a bit of study on wild fermentation.
My first batch of curry-pickled ramps is just 3 weeks old and we’ve already dug in: served along side cheese for an appetizer at a dinner party, plated with a pastrami sandwich, and diced into curried turkey or potato salads. This batch has a delicate balance of bright curry, sweet and tart, without heat or overbearing garlic-ramp. With a delicate onion essence, and the firm crunch of a perfect pickle.
If you live further north of us (or at higher elevations) you may still be able to harvest ramps – bulbs only, before they begin send up their stems.
Curry Pickled Ramps
1.5 c rice vinegar
1 c filtered water
¼ c sugar
2 T kosher salt (use just 1 T if you only have table sale)
1 T curry powder
1 t whole cumin seeds
1 t whole black mustard seeds*
½ t turmeric
8 ounces whites only – roots removed and stem trimmed
*If you can’t find black mustard seeds you can substitute the whole yellow mustard seeds.
Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, curry powder, cumin, mustard seeds and turmeric in a non-reactive saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the ramps and cook for exactly one minute.
Remove the pan from the heat and submerge it in a large bowl of cold water and ice until it has cooled down. Or use a strainer to scoop ramps out of the pot into a bowl set in ice to cool. You will want the mustard and cumin seeds but not the cloudy powder of the curry.
To filter out the powder: Line a strainer with a fine cloth or coffee filter to strain the liquid into a measuring cup. I scoop out most of the seeds, spooning them into the jars, trying to leave the powdery residue in the cheesecloth.
Place the ramps with seeds and brine in a jar, making certain the ramps are just covered by brine. If you find you run short on liquid you can top off the jar with a little more vinegar. Allow the ramps to pickle for at least one week before eating.
If you plan to seal the ramps in a canning process, follow the manufacturer or cooperative extension directions for sterilizing the jars and lids prior to filling them.
These pickles will stay crisp and improve in flavor over many weeks. We’ll continue to test them and report on how long they store.
You can double or triple this recipe.