The Hungry Husky: This season’s ‘it’ vegetable gets in a pickle

The Hungry Husky: This season’s ‘it’ vegetable gets in a pickle

By Mary-Eileen Gallagher

Breezy skirts paired with jeweled flip-flops – a sign of spring.

Improvised beaches created on grassy lawns with quilts spread wide, bare sun-starved skin, and flying Frisbees – a sign of spring.

Soft pink cherry blossoms, aromatic and intoxicating-a sign of spring.

The presence of ramps in the open marketplace-the ultimate sign of spring for a foodie.

Ramps, also known as wild leeks, possess a scallion-like white bulb and foliage resembling floppy green rabbit ears streaked with a red wine hue. They smell like a mixture of onions and garlic and taste like, well, spring.

However, much like spring, ramps are ephemeral. A short five-week harvest period spanning from the end of April through May makes for an anticipated and celebrated ramp arrival, similar to an eclipse or whale migration.

In fact, Richwood, W.Va., the ramp capital of the world, hosts dozens of ramp festivals every April hailing this fragrant bulb and the budding of spring.

Once ramps hit the market stands, the clock begins ticking. Chefs and locals must act fast; a now-or-never attitude fills the food world. With recipes and appetites ready, the ramps are transported from the market, to the kitchen, to the plate. Each cook is hoping to magically coax-out the pungent flavor of ramps in such a way their essence will somehow linger on the palates of all who try them longer than their brief appearance.

However, there are alternative solutions to combatting Mother Nature’s momentary gift of ramps. One solution is to chop and freeze them for later use.

Another, as I learned on Wednesday night in a narrow Brooklyn apartment kitchen, is to pickle them.

It was my first week as an intern for Rick’s Picks, a local pickling company out of lower Manhattan currently in its second year of business. Back in March, I had responded to their ad on Craig’s List. In April, I met Rick Field, the Rick of Rick’s Picks, at the Whole Foods in Cambridge for pickle demonstrations and tastings. The day after I took my last final, I moved into a bedroom in Chinatown, New York, my home for the summer. That following Monday, I started work at Rick’s Picks full of excitement, nervousness and curiosity as to what the next four months would have in store for me as a pickling intern.

To my surprise, on day three of the internship I found myself assisting in the pickling of a special test-batch of ramps into the late hours of the night.

Once the ramps had been thoroughly rinsed of the dirt they previously called home, the iridescent membrane protecting the bulb had to be removed. A rhythmic and repetitive process, the removal of the membrane imbued my finger’s tips with a pungent odor, making it impossible for me to put in my contacts the next morning.

With the ready ramps stacked on a cutting board, a handful are then placed, bulb-down, into glass jars already filled with fresh peppercorns and miniature orange peppers. Then the boiling brine mixture of white wine vinegar and water is poured into the jars. The lids are quickly screwed on, and the jars then enter a large boiling pot of water, where they bathe for five minutes. Once the timer is up, the jars are carefully removed and set to rest on the countertop next to their waiting, lidless counterparts.

The pickled ramp jars are beautiful. The red streaks of the ramps tint the brine an indescribable hue – a new species of color has been born. In their neat rows they sit, patiently awaiting the seal and vacuum to form with the unmistakable “knock!” This is bottled art at its best.

Unfortunately, however, you will not be able to find Rick’s Picks pickled ramps on the store shelves yet. This is a recipe in the making. The first batch was too strong, and this batch has yet to be tasted. However, you can try all nine of Rick’s Picks pickled varieties – ranging from classic dills, curried green tomatoes, and roasted red peppers – at Whole Foods on Westland Avenue. And if you visit New York this summer, be sure to check out our tent at the Green Market every Wednesday for a sample of pickles. —-

Revamp with ramps

I bet you have never had green ramps and eggs. One of the simplest and tastiest ways to prepare fresh ramps is to add them to your classic scrambled eggs or even an omelet for a fresh weekend brunch.

Ingredients: 6 eggs 2 dozen ramps, cleaned and diced 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese 4 tablespoons turkey bacon drippings (optional) Salt and pepper (optional) Directions: Crack all 6 eggs in a large bowl and whisk until scrambled. Place bacon drippings in a skillet and heat until sizzling. Add diced ramps and salt and pepper to skillet, cook until tender, about 2-3 minutes. Pour scrambled egg mixture into skillet, stirring constantly until eggs are nearly cooked. Add cheddar cheese and stir until melted and eggs are done. Serve immediately with toast or cornbread. Serves 6-8.

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