Ramps by the Side of the Road
The Yearly Pilgrimage to My Secret Spot
There are a million little signs that quietly whisper early spring: the houseflies that gather for one last hurrah then up and die on my windowsill; the microscopic radish and arugula sprouts we clip and call salad; the winter coats and boots that retire to the downstairs closet to make way for bright baskets of flip flops and garden clogs.
But nothing is so emblematic and magical as the arrival of ramps in the woods by the side of the road.
I mark this event on my calendar and set it to repeat every year until the end of time. I have the elusive patch mapped on my GPS along with the longitude and latitude of my local wild elderberry and autumn bittersweet. Drive by the woods a week too early and the blanket of green won’t be there yet. A few weeks later and some other, less-edible weed will have taken its place.
Unlike the docile chanterelle or the unfettered watercress, ramps will fight to stay right where they are. Their stubborn roots twist and hang onto the earth with determination. I bring my nastiest knives and show them who’s boss. I wear gloves. I bring friends.
Once home, the ramp remains determined to stay earthbound. It usually requires a relentless blast from the hose to reveal its tender, pale-bottomed bulbs. It’s a job best done with some time on your hands, and a buddy or two.
Crisp white-wine vinegar is the perfect foil for the bright, garlicky crunch of the ramp. Sometimes I fork a puddle of pickled ramps beside a slab of pâté or atop a dark rye smørrebrød. But usually I just eat them straight from the jar—clasped between thumb and forefinger—while standing barefoot in front of the refrigerator.