Blink and you'll miss ramps, the skinny, garlicky wild onions that pop up at farmers' markets from April to early May. They're one of the first signs of spring—and a fleeting pleasure, at that.
But they don't have to be. You can pickle ramps to toss into pasta or eggs or to grace crisp Gibsons, Bloody Marys and other drinks all year long, like they've done at Franny's in Brooklyn and BLT Steak in New York and Washington, D.C.
Shannon Walker, preservationist and beekeeper at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, uses foraged ramps in a wide range of condiments: fermented with salt into "ramp kraut," which Walker describes as "a hillbilly kimchi;" chopped into pesto with oil and cheese; and preserved into a sweet and savory strawberry-ramp jam that's ideal for pairing with cheeses and beers.
But most popular are his pickled ramps, which add the perfect pungency and crunch to drinks. We talked to Walker to find out how to make them at home. (Note: If you're already a home canning whiz, this should be a snap; for novices, consider this an intermediate-level DIY project.)
Prepare the ramps. Remove the roots from the white bulb and cut the leaves off the green stem, if there are any. You'll want about 3 cups (1 pound) of ramps.
Make the brine. In a small pot, combine 1½ cups of water with 2½ cups of malt vinegar, 1½ tablespoons of kosher salt, 1½ teaspoons of cane sugar, a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, 1 bay leaf and 1½ tablespoons of pickling spice. Bring to a boil until the salt and sugar dissolve. Lower to a simmer and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove the bay leaf.
Pack the ramps into jars. Meanwhile, sterilize two pint-size canning jars. Wash and dry the lids and rubber rings. Keep the jars in the oven until they're ready to fill, then pull the jars out and pack the ramps into the jars. Ladle the brine into the jars, leaving half an inch of space on top. (The brine should still be hot when you do this.) Place the lids on the jars and allow to cool to room temperature (about 24 hours). When cool, store in the refrigerator, where they should keep for months.
Got ramps? Make a Ramp Gibson by adding 2½ ounces of gin, ½ ounce of dry vermouth and ice to a mixing glass. Stir well and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a pickled ramp.
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