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.