Another take on preserving wild leeks (ramps)

Time to take a break from the New York posts for something seasonal – the fields are really starting to pop with fiddleheads, dandelions, leeks and more.

I was working yesterday when a call from my parents came in; “we’re driving through town (coming back from our cabin) and have some wild leeks that we harvested yesterday – do you want any?”  Life has come to this – a surprise ambush of 10 pounds of ramps.

I risk sounding redundant by emphasizing that wild leeks need to be harvested ethically.  They do not seed; once you pick a leek it will not grow back.  Over-picking can easily decimate our ramp population.  Picking wild leeks in Quebec is now banned as there are so few remaining (they had a quota of 5 or less for a while as well as an outright ban and I’m not certain where that stands today).  It is generally accepted that picking 5-10% of a patch is a responsible amount – assuming you are in a place that 20 people are not likely to follow suit.

We are spoiled in this regard.  Our family harvest was 15-20 pounds and was less than 1% of a field that is 15 kilometers into the forest on private land.  It’s an ideal location – its remoteness and limited access are keys to how ideal it is.

My 10 pounds of leeks also included some dirt, leaves, moss and the like. This will produce 3 different types of preserves and should yield 4-6 cups of pickled leeks.  The yield is small.

Cleaning them is very easy and not nearly as time-consuming as garlic or even onions.  I snap the roots off, peel the outer layer of skin off the bulb and separate the bulb from the green.  The roots are the strongest part of the plant, the bulb is the most fragile and the leaves are somewhere between (and you can treat them roughly if you’re planning to squish them into pesto like we did).

Our bulbs are currently sitting in the fridge in a salt brine (24 hours in a 12% bath; 1/2 cup salt to 4 cups water).  We’ll pickle them like we detailed here.

It was also time to make our pesto.  I’ve decided to go a different direction this year than we did last year.  There are two significant differences then we’ve done in the past:

  1. Rather than a traditional pesto with cheese, nuts and more,  this is more of an “idea” of pesto.  It’s the green leaves and oil only.  Oil is there is to help bind the mixture and used minimally.  This will allow the essence of leeks to come through anything and is more versatile (I’m not a big fan of nuts in tomato sauce for example).  I can always add those other items later which also makes this easier to store.
  2. I have decided against olive oil and went for canola.  This was a struggle and a long decision process and one I just believe I’ll be happier with.  I simply choose Canola because of its terroir – canola and leeks grow in the same area.

The results:

My newest preserve this year is something I am dearly excited about:

Dehydrated wild leek roots!

The roots of a single plant are attached to a “stem” so that they resemble an octopus – a small “body” branches outwards with multiple legs.  I kept the entire unit together to make them easier to handle and less likely to blow around in our dehydrator. It was a bit of work ensuring that each was fully cleaned but well worth the effort:

The dehydrated roots are great for salads and gentle foods that you wish to add a crispy accent which tastes between garlic and onion.  Sashimi would be an ideal application for some of these.  They are outstanding (if you don’t have a dehydrator and have fresh ramps you can clean the roots, chop and use them in your own cooking; they would also fry well as long as not burned).

Once again, the harvest is small – 2 cups of dried roots is our entire supply for the year.

Preserving the roots is new to us.  It is extra work but was well worth the effort.  Considering these little dudes will never grow back from where we took them I figure we owe it to them to use as much of the plant as we can.  I adore how different the pickle is from the leek and it from the roots.

Any other ways to preserve your ramps out there?

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  11. Hi –

    Thanks for your article. I thought you would like to know that wild leeks do set seed. After the leaves yellow and die, a flower stalk comes up from the bulb, blooms, and sets small black seeds, which are ready for harvesting around September. Collect some and start yourself a new patch closer to home! -Pete

    • Thanks Pete!

      Have been meaning to experiment – I’ve heard some people have mixed results planting the seed but have never tried. It sound like you’ve had some success – I look forward to trying. I didn’t know the timing so this was so very helpful. 🙂 Joel

      • Last spring, I dug up a small clump of leeks from a nearby logging road. As best I could, I dug the whole plant and brought them back to my wooded yard (1 mile away). Two of three clumps transplanted like this reemerged this spring! I have the same elevation, soil, hardwood leaf mulch, forest.
        More and more people are foraging in this area, and I am happy to be preserving some on my land just in case the current fields get over harvested.