All photos by Amanda Schuster
We’ve hit that strange straddle of time between mid May and June where some days it’s difficult to discern what season we’re supposed to be in. Even on a warm, balmy day, the fresh orchard fruits of summer – plums, peaches, berries and apricots – aren’t quite ready yet. However, if you have a garden, or make it to the farmer’s market early enough in the day, you might still be lucky to score some ramps for the next couple of weeks.
Just as with the Jewish festival of Passover, there are four questions everyone seems to ask about ramps:
- What are ramps?
- Why do we keep seeing them on menus all of a sudden?
- Why did no one seem to care about them before?
- Were they invented by gourmet hipsters?
And the answers:
- Ramps are part of the allium family. With a small, white bulb attached to purply-pink stems and flat green leaves, they are essentially wild spring onions. What makes them special and has been known to ignite farmer’s market fracas is that their growing season is short, and they don’t grow in abundant crops. Whatever comes to the surface after the frost subsides is typically all there is for at least another year. They aren’t merely grown, darlings, they’re foraged!
- Ramps are beloved by chefs because they offer a more subtle snap of pungency unlike their more assertive garlic and onion counterparts, with a mild sweetness in the aftertaste. It’s delicious to consume the entire ramp – green parts and all – so even though they’re one of the most expensive vegetables to procure, they’re also one of the most versatile.
- We’ve probably been eating them for years as “spring onions” and someone decided to identify them as “ramps” to distinguish them from scallions and other onions. Also, as eating has become more seasonal in many cultures, people are paying closer attention to what’s freshest in the moment.
- No, gourmet hipsters didn’t invent them, but they sure are an enthusiastic bunch, aren’t they?
Bonus fifth question: So this is a drinks publication. How do we use ramps in drinks???
With ramp season fairly short, one of the best ways to preserve them is by pickling them (which is far easier than it sounds, as you’ll see shortly). They become kind of like a pickled onion, but better. And what’s the best way to enjoy a pickled onion? Gibsons, of course.
Already beating you to your next question: Gibsons are a sibling of the dry Martini, and they’ve been around since at least the turn of the 20th century. They make use of pickled onion in place of the olive as a garnish. Like a Martini, there a few ways to go about mixing one, depending on how dry or wet (meaning the ratio of white vermouth to spirit) one prefers to make them. I’m partial to them as a sort of aperitif, with a 60/40 split of spirit to vermouth, but you can make them boozier with more spirit and less vermouth, especially if you want them to be more savory. Hence, two variations here. Whatever the preference, vermouth is essential to this drink in more than a mere whisper (use a soft one that isn’t too aromatic, such as La Quintinye blanc or Alessio vermouth bianco), as the pungency of the pickled ramp is tempered by it and the pickling spices play off the botanicals of gin. Use a dry one, such as 2016 NY International Spirits Competition double gold winner Langley’s No. 8. Or, for milder flavors, make it with a crisp, unflavored vodka, such as Reyka as the base.
Didn’t find any ramps this year? You can also make pickled scallions and garnish with them instead. This drink will still be delicious.
By the way, don’t be shy about picking up and eating that garnish when the drink has gone down!
60/40 Pickled Ramp Gibson
- 2 oz / 60 mL dry, not too citrusy gin or vodka
- 1 oz/ 30 mL dry vermouth
- Garnish: pickled ramp (recipe follows)
Stir the gin or vodka with the vermouth in a mixing glass with ice until well chilled (click here to see the technique). Arrange one pickled ramp in a neat coil inside a chilled coupe or Martini glass. Strain the drink into the drink over the ramp. Sip to spring’s arrival!
Pickled Ramp Gibson
- 2 ½ oz / about 74 mL dry gin or vodka
- ½ oz / 15 mL dry vermouth
- Garnish: pickled ramp (recipe follows)
Prepare as you would the above recipe.
Here’s a pickling recipe that works for ramps and also a number of spring/summer crops such as scallions and radishes. You’ll need a sterilized, 1 quart jar with a tight-sealing lid.
- bunch of fresh ramps
- 2 good pinches kosher or coarse sea salt
- 1 cup / 236 mL white wine vinegar
- ¾ cup / about 177 g sugar
- 1 tsp white mustard seed
- 2 tsp mix of peppercorns (black, pink, white, green, whatever you can find)
- ½ tsp dried fennel seed
- ½ cumin seed
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup / 236 mL water
Thoroughly rinse the soil off the ramps. Trim their bottom threads off. Cut them to about an inch above where the green sections sprout out of the white and purplish parts. Prepare an ice bath in a medium sized bowl.
Prepare the ramps by flash boiling them in enough salted water to cover for about 30 seconds, then quickly transfer them with a slotted spoon to the ice bath until cooled. Place in the jar.
Combine all the remaining ingredients in a saucepan, spices and all, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, a couple of minutes. Pour the mixture into the jar over the ramps and seal. Let cool to room temperature. Gently turn it over once or twice to mix. Cool in refrigerator at least overnight before using. Should store in the fridge two weeks to a month. (These are also delicious on sandwiches, tacos, as a soup garnish, and Bloody Marys!)