Ramps are the It allium of early spring, a headliner on restaurant menus, and a sought-after item at the Greenmarket. They’re both prized and notorious for their pungent aroma and sharp flavor, and can be as pricey as microgreens (which rival that of lobster or scallops by the pound).
That is, unless you can find yourself a forager and broker a deal, which is how Greg Baxtrom chef-owner of Olmsted got his first 50 pound bag last week. “The season is just starting,” says Baxtrom, noting that his most recent delivery hails from a “very secret location” upstate. His stash arrived via Uber from Williamsburg, through a Missy Robbins hookup from Lilia.
He’s hoping to get 300 pounds that he intends to pickle, preserve, and puree a good portion of the haul so it lasts beyond the season. Right now though, he’s excited for a classic pairing of ramps and morels, the honeycombed mushroom that comes out in the next few weeks.
Over at the Union Square Greenmarket, smallish, early season ramps were selling for $5 a bunch. Yet their prevalence on menus and at farmers markets are actually causing some problems. “It would take at least 2 million plants annually to meet current market demand, and that figure could be very low,” environmental advocates say.
Since more people are pulling them out of the ground, roots and all — as opposed to leaving young plants alone or harvesting by cutting the bulbs, minus the roots — the demand is outpacing the supply, The New York Times reported. “The acres-wide patches that used to carpet the forest floor are becoming elusive.”
There would be plenty to go around if everyone embraced sustainable practices, like “Just pick one leaf per plant and leave the bulb in the ground and you have a plant that keeps producing for you.”
There are lots of restaurants that will only buy from foragers who sustainably harvest. That includes Bill Telepan at Oceana, who’s serving them in a linguini dish with shrimp, ramps and green chiles, as well as at Batard, where Markus Glocker is serving them with halibut and caviar with a Champagne sauce as a tasting menu option.
Is there any sign that ramps are becoming less popular? “Nah,” says Baxtrom. For as long as they’re accessible and there’s a demand, “they’ll never be on the decline.”