Ramps are a spring ephemeral, which means they’re only here for a very short time. A short harvest window helps us appreciate natures bounty, but sometimes its just not enough. There are simple ways to preserve ramps to enjoy them for a little bit longer.
Start by finding a patch of ramps in the early spring. Timing can vary based on your location, but up here in Vermont we see them around the 1st of may.
Southern locations will be earlier, and a good rule of thumb is to watch for coltsfoot flowers. When the coltsfoot flowers pop, it’s likely the ramps have just emerged.
Once you find a patch, be sure to harvest sparingly. The book Farming the Woods sites studies that show no more than 10% of a patch can be harvested in a good year without causing a decline. You never know who else might be harvesting a wild patch, so harvest sparingly.
A good way around that is to grow your own ramps. They’re simple to grow provided you have a shady location with constant moisture.
Pickling is the most effective way to make ramps shelf stable for long-term preservation. Ramps are a low acid food, and if you want to can them you can either pressure can them (more on that later) or you can pickle them in something acidic, like vinegar.
Spices vary from by recipe, but a good pickling base includes 2 parts vinegar and 1 part water, along with 1 Tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt per pint. Here’s my recipe for pickled ramps.
The original form of pickling, Lacto-fermenting uses lactobacillus, the same bacteria in yogurt. These cultures thrive in a high salt and high acid environment, and they’ll prevent other nasty spoiling bacteria from growing. Here’s a recipe from a Vermont food coop not too far from here: Lacto-Fermented Ramps
Freezing Ramps in Oil
We often freeze sauteed onions in oil for quick and easy weeknight meals. Cooking up some ramps in a little olive oil and then freezing them would turn an average weeknight meal into something special.
Slice up the white bulbs, saving the greens for another recipe. Sautee them in a bit of olive oil with a pinch of salt. Packaged them up in a freezer safe container, like a wide mouth mason jar with a freezer lid.
You can also freeze plain ramps without oil, but they’ll need to be blanched first. Blanch the ramp bulbs in boiling water for 15 seconds before plunging them into an ice water bath. Pack them up for the freezer and you’re good to go.
Ramp Compound Butter
Compound butter is one of the simplest ways to preserve ramp greens. All you need is a bit of good quality butter, ramp greens and lemon juice.
Process it up in a food processor and then wrap in waxed paper. After a few hours, it’ll be solid enough to unwrap and slice for meals. We used a bit of this ramp compound butter to top ravioli and turned a plain meal into something extraordinary.
If you want a little magic in your mouth, try making ramp pesto. It’s completely different than basil pesto, and really captures the unique flavor of ramps. The finished pesto is spicy and rich, perfect for adding flavor to pasta dishes or just slathering on toast.
A basic ramp pesto just substitutes ramp greens for the basil in a pesto recipe. Here’s my recipe for ramp pesto.
Pressure Canning Ramps
Ramps are a type of wild onion, and you should be able to can them up in a pressure canner in the same way as pearl onions. They are a low acid food, and cannot be canned in a water bath canner unless you’re making pickled ramps with vinegar.
For plain canned ramps in water, pack ramps into pint or quart jars and fill with water leaving 1 inch of headspace. Process the ramps at 10 pounds pressure for 40 minutes. Salt is optional, but you can add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to each pint if you want.
Another really good way to preserve them for later is to turn them into kimchi. Kimchi is made using the leaves so I pickle the bulbs and use the leaves to make kimchi.
Can you freeze the ramp pesto or ramp butter? How long do you think they’ll last in the fridge?
I lost a log of the ramp butter in the back of the fridge, and when I found it in the fall it was delicious on pumpkin gnocchi. Mine at least lasted 6+ months, but I can’t say if that works all the time. In the freezer though, both pesto and butter keep really well for months.
Last year I fermented ramp leaves, just the leaves and they turned out amazingly delicious!
My attempt this year is close to the same but less flavor and they don’t seem to be fermenting as much as they should. I’d like them to ferment more and I’m wondering if I didn’t add enough salt or if I should add sugar don’t know if I can add sugar now that they’re at the 15-day mark of fermentation although it seems like fermentation has slowed considerably or stopped. My first attempt ever, (last year) I thought I added too much salt but they turned out perfectly.
YIKES!!!!! Photos above ALL SHOW the ramps with the entire root system intact. I thought we weren’t supposed to do that. I watched an old guy from an organic farm up in Maine on youtube and he said to harvest them by cutting just above the end of the bulb with a sharp knife–and leaving that part in the ground so it can grow again. Would someone clarify this for me? Thank you.
Please note the description underneath the photo which explains. “Farmer’s Market ramps harvested whole with the bulb intact. For sustainability reasons, it’s recommended that you only harvest one leaf from each plant, leaving the bulb in the ground to regrow the following year. This picture is mainly to show you what they look like as a whole plant for identification purposes.”
I have stored pesto in the fridge for several years. Sounds crazy, but it works. This recipe i would do the blanch step. Onion family is funny, needs cooked first
How it works:
Cover finished pesto w 1/2 evoo. Clean rim and glass. Sometimes i use w. vinegar. Mostly a damp paper towel.
When i use it, i push aside the cold firm oil. Scoup out what i want. Then i push the pesto down, and then tamp out air bubbles. Bring evoo layey back to 1/2 of clear evoo. Clean glass. Store.
I’ve used pesto for over two years with this method for over ten years.
That’s a very interesting technique. Thank you for sharing.
I dehydrated the leaves last spring and made a spice bottle of dried ramps. Keeps all year and great sprinkled on everything.
How do you guarantee that they will stay crispy? I have a hard time when I pickle them, they tend to become soggy, or soft.
If you really want them to stay crispy the best way is to store them in the fridge rather than canning them.