Ontario Ramps or Wild Leeks

What's Fresh, Toronto? Ramps!

As the growing season gets started, I want to keep track of what is becoming available each step of the way, and will share my findings in my new farm fresh feature "What's Fresh, Toronto?"

Right now, ramp season is ramping up. What's a ramp you ask? Also known as wild leeks, ramps (Allium tricoccum) are a member of the onion family. They look kind of like scallions with their white bulb at the bottom, but have a purplish stem and green leaves at the top. All parts are edible and very, very tasty.

These delicious foraged gems are among the first plants to usher in spring, and from reports on Chow I got the skinny that they are now available at St. Lawrence Market.

So at 8:30 am on Saturday, there I was foraging around the market for ramps, and Marvin's Produce (located at the North East corner of the North Market building) had stacks of them. They were foraged by the farmer and owner of the stand and are from the forests of Waterdown, Ontario.

Ramps should be available at most Toronto farmer's markets and retailers like the Big Carrot and Organics on Bloor once the season hits full swing (the season usually runs from about now till late May).

If you're feeling adventurous, you can go out and forage for your own. They grow in patches in moist forested areas. They are recognizable from the slender green leaves and purple stem that shoot out from the ground.

Harvesting wild leeks is legal in Ontario (commercial trade is illegal in Quebec and personal foraging is regulated to 200g per season due to over-harvesting issues), but it is recommended that no more than 5% - 10% of a patch is taken to ensure it can regenerate. So be kind to the plants that you might come across while foraging or talk to your supplier/farmer about where the ramps are coming from and who is harvesting them.

While the strong scent of onion is a good indication that you've found the right plant, it goes without saying that if you're not sure about a plant don't eat it!!!!

So what to do with your delicious little ramps once you get them home? The answer is pretty much anything. Unlike scallions, ramps are very flavourful: think garlic meets onion, with a spicy kick. And as I mentioned all parts are edible - bulb, stalk and leaves.

These flavour combinations make ramps a great addition to almost any dish. Raw they can be added to salads, made into an aioli, or eaten a la North Carolina where they are traditionally enjoyed with bacon, potatoes and scrambled eggs. On Sunday I chopped up the stem and bulb and made a ramp aioli, then slathered it on burgers with the ramp leaves used in place of lettuce.

When you cook ramps the flavour becomes somewhat more mellow, and today they will make the perfect accompaniment in a cream based pasta sauce that I plan to whip up for dinner. Wanna preserve your wild leeks? Try pickling and canning them to enjoy all year long.

Ramp season gets Toronto chefs so excited that you will soon be seeing them on menus across the city. Michael Stadtl채nder is even hosting the Maple Syrup and Wild Leek Festival again this spring.

Next up: Fiddleheads. But they don't generally appear until May, so let the countdown begin...

Know what's fresh and exciting on the harvest front? E-mail me at lauren[[at]]blogto[[dot]]com.


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