Spring Into Ramp Season

Text and photos by Beth Bartoli, Naturalist, Newport SP

Although the recent snow and sleet tells us otherwise, spring is slowly showing its face in northern Door County. Early ephemerals are peeking their heads out of the ground, and wild leeks, also known as ramps, are dotting the forest floor with bright, happy green.

Foragers do not have to look far for this delectable, springtime treat. Now is the time to harvest ramps, when they are young and tender. The root or bulb-like bottom of the plant that is underground gets stronger-tasting as it ages. If you are lucky enough to have them on your land, you can dig to your heart’s content. However, please keep in mind, it is illegal and unethical to dig up anything in state parks. You can harvest ramps leaves in the park, but leave the root part, as digging it up destroys the plant. 

Ramps belong to the same family as onions, shallots, chives and garlic. Some say their flavor is a cross between garlic, scallions and commercially grown leeks. Foraging for you own food has gained much popularity and is a great outdoor activity. There are many health benefits to ramps as well. Naturally low in calories, they are a good source of beta carotene, Vitamins A, K and particularly C, boasting twice as much as in the same quantity of oranges. Ramps are also a rich source of antioxidants and sulfur compounds, thought to help reduce inflammation, cholesterol and your overall risk of heart disease. 

Get out in the woods and try your hand at one, or both, of the recipes I’ve included. Happy foraging!

Ramps, including bulbs

Wild Ramp and Potato Soup
Beth Bartoli, Naturalist, Newport State Park

  • 4-6 slices bacon
  • 4 C. ramps, leaves and bulbs, chopped
  • 4-5 red potatoes, diced
  • 3 Tbl. Flour
  • 4 C. chicken broth
  • 1 C. heavy cream
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  1. In large skillet or Dutch oven, fry bacon until crispy, remove from pan and set aside.
  2. And ramps and potatoes to bacon grease in the pan. Sauté on medium-low heat until ramps are tender.
  3. Sprinkle with flour and stir with wooden spoon until flour is absorbed.
  4. Stir in chicken broth, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender.
  5. Stir in heavy cream and heat thoroughly without boiling.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. For a chunky soup, leave as is. For a little thicker creamer soup, blend a portion of the vegetables and return to the broth.
  8.  Garnish with crumpled bacon. Can also top with cheese, if desired.
Wild Ramps

Wild Ramp Pesto
Beth Bartoli, Naturalist, Newport State Park

  • One bunch of ramps (wild leeks), approx. ¼ lb. or 2 cups
  • ½ cup walnuts (toasted), or pine nuts
  • ⅓ C. olive oil (may need to add a little more when processing)
  • ½ C. grated parmigiana reggiano cheese
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper
  • A squirt of lemon
  1. Wash and cut off the leaves of the ramps. Optional step: Blanch the ramp leaves in boiling water. Some say this makes the pesto more vibrant and bright. I think it is fine either way. (Use the bottom bulbs, if you have them, for something else. Bulbs will make it very strong.)
  2. Chop ramps and walnuts a bit and put them in a food processor.
  3. Add most of the cheese, saving some for sprinkling on to when serving, and a good dash of salt and pepper.
  4. Pouring the olive oil in slowly, process until combined and smooth.
  5. Taste for seasoning and add lemon.
  6.  Use to top pasta, grilled bread, vegetables…and enjoy!