I had a new neighbor move in a couple of weeks ago. He stopped by the house this weekend when we were getting ready to go ramp digging. He asked if he could tag along and I told him yes. Afterwards, he wanted to know if he could write and article that documented his experience. I agreed and told him that I would be glad to post it on the website for him.
Having wild ramps fresh from the field to prepare them the way I wanted sounded like a good start before I jumped into the market scene and was overwhelmed. I needed to go ramp digging, and I needed an experienced ramp digger to teach me. The first thing I learned was to make sure that when foraging for ramps you don’t find yourself with autumn crocus or lily of the valley flower, both of which are poisonous and would ruin any dining experience quickly. I also learned that because of the increasing popularity that they’re getting harder and harder to find. Experienced diggers groused about beds being completely wiped out by the younger generation that digs every last wild ramp in the patch and don’t leave any to reseed. I convinced RampHead I just wanted to sample the wild variety for my own needs and not in a large quantity so he agreed to take me with him. I was grateful he didn’t blindfold me or anything on the way to the site and he said hopefully if a few people would learn how to gather them responsibly, and grow some of their own; it would help out the rest as a whole.
After we arrived and parked, he pointed at the tools we’d need, he called them Ramp Hoes, and we set off into the woods. We hiked for a while and fortunately it was cool because of the forest cover. RampHead pointed out that ramps tend to grow in a circular cluster. He said it most often was because of the seeds dropping off nearby and a large group indicated how long they’d been growing. I saw the three leaves he pointed out with the red near the base and after pulling one out and exposing the bulb, I knew what to look for. I started to pull on one and he quickly stopped me and pointed to the Ramp Hoes that we’d brought. The stems would easily break off and leave the bulb below the surface and increase your work. Exposing a clump, from the inside was the best option. The idea was to get the most for your work and make the conditions for regrowth better.
It had been sometime since I’d been out in the woods and just the sheer beauty of it all made the gathering that much more special. Your average consumer would go to the store, wander around the produce department passing over everything that didn’t look immediately recognizable while missing out on so much flavor versatility. Now try and convince that same person to hike out into the woods and learn how to not only extract them properly but prepare them for your return or for someone else to harvest eventually. I smiled and RampHead asked what was up. I said it was a special experience and maybe after I got good at it I would share it with someone else. After a few more rounds of carefully pulling up a clump with the shovel, removing a few ramps and then replanting them so they would have room to grow from within the cluster like I’d been shown, it was his turn to smile and thank me for being considerate of others.
We drank from the water bottles we’d brought and rinsed off our hands then bundled up the ramps we’d harvested and returned to the truck. Along the way my new friend told me about when he first went digging for Wild Ramps and forgot his Ramp Hoe, requiring a long hike back out only to have to walk back in again, and a story he’d heard of a harvester that went out somewhere he probably shouldn’t have been and on his return found that he had been locked behind a gate on an old logging road. I laughed, while making a note to not do that myself in the future. He dropped me off at my car and wished me luck with the ramps. He added if I wanted some great recipe ideas there was a local festival in Richwood that celebrated all things ramp’y. I said I would try to swing by and get some ideas. We parted and I headed home with some new knowledge and appreciation for what nature could provide and the grocery store couldn’t.