home canning

Recipes, Edible Plants

The Wonderful Wonderful Ramp

pickled ramps

pickled ramps

Ramps are special. We have wild onions in California, but they don’t come close to the taste, texture, and versatility of ramps (don't get me wrong, we have wild mushrooms that East Coasters would kill for). Since all the wild ingredients I use for The Wild Kitchen are local, the closest I ever get to using ramps is the wild onion.  Our wild onion is essentially a scallion, which is how I treat it.  Good chopped up and sautéed, with nice white flowers that I use for garnish. A ramp is a whole other animal.

The roots have a biting onion flavor, and bulblike crunch that begs to be pickled. The greens, which can be grilled, broiled, sautéed or seared, have just the right amount of the bulbs onion aroma, but a great texture that really rounds out a plate. They are a perennial (grow back each year), and the plant that gave Chicago its name. Chicagou was the word for ramp in the local dialect, and an abundant plant in the area when the city was being settled.

I’m back for a week visiting my mom in Plainfield, and wanted to take advantage of the best foraging season on the East Coast.  The prime focus for me was ramps. The woods are amazing in Vermont. The smell of the trees, moss, gurgle of creeks, shade of the maples.  All with the bonus of an abundance of plant and animal life on the forest floor.  I love California, but you just don’t get the same experience in our woods.

toothwort leaves

toothwort leaves

I grew up in Vermont, but my foraging career really started with wild mushrooms on the west coast, so I enlisted the help of a local expert to help me find my prize.  Annie is a local gardner/naturalist/friend of the family, who was nice enough to show me one of her prime spots. Not that they’re hard to find in VT. Ramps (or wild leeks as they’re called here) are everywhere. It would have taken me days to pick even half of what I saw.  Along the way she introduced me to some edibles I’d never heard of.

One was toothwort. It's a 3-leaves low growing plant. It has thin dull green leaves with serrated edges. The roots (and leaves to some extent) have an uncanny horseradish flavor. It’s pretty amazing actually. If I do a dinner in Vermont, this is definitely going to be included on the menu. Maybe a toothwort wasabi with local freshwater trout sashimi….Another thing that Annie introduced me to was the edibility of violet flowers. They don’t grow in abundance, so I would feel uncomfortable collecting them for a Wild Kitchen dinner, but they were great to try. They taste like wintergreen. Pretty cool. Another plant that grows here in abundance is wild ginger. We have this in CA, but I don’t see it much where I forage. There was a bunch on our walk, so I grabbed some of that too.

There's been some recent press on the over harvesting of ramps on the east coast, given their sudden spike in popularity.  As far as I can tell it’s more theoretical than realistic. People see them in stores, so immediately assume they are being decimated. From people I’ve talked to up here, it hasn’t become a problem. I always live by the motto of never taking more than a third of whatever plant I’m harvesting, that way I can be sure it will be there when I return next year.

field of ramps

field of ramps

I dug ramps for about 15 minutes and had almost more than I could carry, so I headed home. I washed them and cut off the bulbs, and for the next 3 days I ate the greens at every meal. Tossed in garlic and olive oil and wrapped in tin foil on the grill, sautéed with salt and garlic with my eggs in the morning, and cut small and used raw to spice up potato salad.   Even then I had a ton left.  Since there was no way I could eat them all before I left (and because I wanted to bring some back west), I decided to pickle the bulbs. Most of the pickles I do are what are known as quick pickles. Basically hot brine that is poured a vegetable, and used within a week or so. I wanted to try something different with these, so I decided to do a proper can.

If you’re reading this blog, I imagine you have some experience canning, or at least understand the fundamental ideas behind it. If not, also cool, we’ve all got to start somewhere.  The basic idea of canning is to submerge a veggie (or meat) into a hygienic environment (often vinegar), then boil the jar to create a vacuum that will push out any excess air. This creates an anaerobic environment where bacteria cannot grow, so preserves food longer. These pickles will last at least a month, or until you’ve eaten them all (which will probably be sooner):

You’ll need:


2C white vinegar

4C water

1C white sugar

2T mustard seed (“T” =Tablespoon and “t”=teaspoon)

1T fennel seed

2T black peppercorns

4 piece wild ginger root

2T kosher salt

4 piece toothwort root (both optional of course, but if you don’t use them add a small piece of fresh horseradish)

2 lb fresh ramps


4 - 12 OZ canning jars

Water bath canner (if you have it. If not a pot large enough to fit the jars will suffice)


1 medium pot

Baking pan or Pyrex casserole

clean ramps

clean ramps

  1. First you want to get your liquids boiling, while they heat up you’ll have time to clean your ramps. Fill your pot with all your picking ingredients (minus the ramps). Bring them to a boil, then turn off heat. Fill your water bath canner up 3/4 with water, and boil. If you are using a pot, fill with water (leaving room for the area the jars will displace). Preheat your oven to 350F

  2. Sterilize your jars: An easy way to sterilize jars is wash them with soap and water, then bake them on sheet pan in the oven at 200F until you’re ready to use them. Got that tip from Slow Jams. http://www.chow.com/food-news/59073/the-easiest-way-to-sterilize-jars/

  3. While those are heating up, clean your ramps. First give the ramps a good wash, peeling off any discolored skin on the root, and snapping the root (not the bulb) off. Then cut off the bulb just above where the green of the leaf begins. Save the leaves. I personally think they’re just as delicious as the bulbs. You can sauté them up for a side dish, or put them on sandwiches. Really delicious.

  4. Now you want to fill your jars. I try to stand the ramps up, with the bulbs all facing down, but that’s really just an aesthetic choice. Just make sure there’s an inch clear below the rim of the jar. Pour over your nearly boiling pickling liquid, adding a root of ginger and toothwort, as well as a spoon of spices, to each jar. Screw on the lid.

  5. Now for the can. If you’re using a regular pot, you’ll want to make sure the jars stand up straight, but that they don’t touch the metal bottom. There are fancy grills they sell for this, or you can do what I do, and put a dishtowel in the water to line the bottom of the pot. Just make sure it’s as flat as you can make it. Place the jars in the water, turn down to a simmer, and “cook” for 15 minutes. Make sure the water covers the jar (this is how you force out the air), add hot water from the tap if it needs it.

  6. Take jars out with tongs, allow to cool, and you’re done! A lot of words for what is actually a pretty simple process. Clean veggies, put in jars, cover with vinegar, and force out air. As they cool you should hear a popping sound of the lid suctioning down. You might not hear the sound, but check to see that the lid is pressed in, that’s how you know the can worked.

If you make this recipe, give me a comment and let me know how it went. I haven’t tried it with the toothwort yet, and I’m definitely excited to see if the wasabi/horseradish flavor comes through. Also, if you've ever pickled the greens, let me know how that went. That's what I'll try next. Ramps!


dirty ramps

dirty ramps


Naturally fermented seabean pickles

all in a rowI'm convinced that seabeans make a great pickle.  They're already salty, crunchy, so small that the pickling mixture soaks through them pretty quickly, but so far my experiments have not been super successful...too much vinegar, not enough salt, too much garlic, not enough dill.  I'm starting from scratch, and this time, am using the naturally fermented method.

Rather than vinegar and pickling spices, this method uses only salt,water, garlic.  Dill and other flavorings can included to taste, but this time I used only the above. Vinegar free pickles are the traditional way of making pickles. Rather than trapping out bacteria via vinegar (basically making an antiseptic brine where nothing can live), naturally fermented pickles actually grow their own beneficial bacteria.  This serves several purposes. 1. it makes them deliciously tart, 2. it keeps out bad bacteria, and 3. the pickles are actually good for you. The same kind of good bacteria that lives in yogurt (Lactobacillus) grows in these pickles, helping your digestion and immune system.    All good things.  Without further ado, here's what I did today....

What I used:

1 cup Sea Salt

11 cups filtered h20

2 cloves garlic

1.5 lbs sea beans (also known as pickleweed or samphire)

My trusty Makers notebook ( a gift for being in the makers faire)

gallon jar (mine was not widemouthed, but thats ideal if you have one)

my stuff

What I did:

1.Cleaned the jar with a splash of boiling water

2. Mixed 11 Cups water and 1 Cup Sea Salt (old wives tale says that you should be able to float an egg in the brine...I generally find old wives to be right, and this brine passes that test)

my jar

3.took out egg.

4.added sea beans and garlic (I didn't have any dill, but I'm sure that will make it that much more delicious)

5.the reason for using a wide mouth jar is that you need a way to keep the veggies underneath the brining solution while it sits.  The best way to do this is to get a plate that just fits into the jar, and use a rock to weigh it down. My jar has a tapered lid, so I couldn't do that.  My solution (a very elegant one I gleaned from a woman at the makers faire...Rachel I think (sorry if you're reading this) ) is to fill a plastic bag with water, seal the top, and squeeze that through the jar. It acts to keep the seabeans down, pretty cool.  It's really not ideal, because you don't necessarily want plastic sitting on your food for that long, but works in a pinch.

6. that's it! cover the jar, and let it sit in a dark place for a while. Check them after 1,2,3 weeks, this way you can taste as the flavor develops. These should keep for about a year.  I'll update in a week, see how the experiment is holding up. Make sure to keep track of what you did, so you can change/repeat it next time.

IMG_0763 IMG_0761


Dilly Sea Bean Pickles


Sea Beans are great, I love their salty crunch.  Also called pickleweed, Sea Beans are known scientifically as Salicornia europae variety ruba, and are halophytic (salt loving) plants. When I try to describe how they taste, I always "the Sea".  It reminds me of warm days spent by the coast. That's what's so great about foraging, getting to hold onto the time you spend outside, rather than just a memory, you're reminded by foods you bring home.  Sea Beans can be found in salt marshes up and down the coast.  If you're harvesting them near the city, be careful that it's not from a polluted area, the bay's got more of those than not.  Often used as a  garnish in restaurants, sea beans can be eaten raw, but they're so salty that a full plate is not that appetizing. I try to find other uses.  They are great sauteed with butter and garlic if you're in a hurry, but if you've got time (6 weeks or so), they make a great pickle.  Crisp and salty, their thin build lets the picking mix penetrate all the way to the center, totally masking the Sea Bean flavor.  Experiment with different concoctions, but my favorite is dill.  Great with fish, or in egg salad.  Pics are a bit blurry, I guess the iphone isn't perfect.

To make Dilly Sea Beans, you'll need.....

-1/2 pint mason jars (you can use larger ones, but I like standing all the sea beans up in the jar, and this size is perfect for that)

- Garlic (optional)

- Fresh dill

- White vinegar


1.     The first step is to sterilize your jars. This isn't a super crucial step since we're using vinegar in the pickling (a soap and water wash is probably fine), but it's a good habit to get into, and becomes more important when making naturally fermented pickles.

-Fill the jars half full with H20.  Place in microwave on high for 5-8 minutes, and forget about them for a bit.  I'm generally not a fan of the microwave, but if you want to kill things, it's the place to put them(kinda makes you wonder what it's doing to your food).  This is a good time to put your lids and rims in some water to boil, they should boil for about 10 minutes (don't put them in the microwave!...unless you want to have a really good story about explosions in the kitchen)

2.   Next step is to get your ingredients together.  Peel your garlic and....well that's about it, it's super easy.  If you want to get a bit OCD, and want your finished product to be a work of food art, the envy of your peers, and a testament to the validity of the  dominant power of the human race on our small planet, you can pick out the long sea beans and arrange them in piles according to size and direction, if not, that's cool too.

3. Make a cocktail of 1/2 h2o, 1/2 vinegar (figure out how much you'll need to fill the jars), and boil.

4.  Get the jars out of microwave, empty the water.

5. While that heats up, place a sprig (mostly leaves) of dill and optional garlic clove in the bottom of each jar, and then fill with sea beans.  I like to stand them all up in one direction, for vanities sake.  Then place a sprig of dill on top.

6. Once vinegar boils, fill jars, leaving 1/2inch at the top of each.

7. Place lids on jars, making sure the edges are clean.

8.  Now one more boil, place jars in a pot with water to 3/4 height of jar. Boil for 10 minutes.

8. Done! So easy, so delicious. Well, I guess not quite done.  After they cool check to make sure the lids don't pop, if they do, the vacuum didn't seal, and they should be put in the fridge to pickle. Place the jars in a cool dark place, and let sit for 4-6 weeks.  You can use these in the same way you would cucumber pickles. Sandwiches, egg salad...well I suppose you know how to use pickles.  Last thoughts : They're Great! Make them! Also, I'm going to be at the maker faire in the homegrown village, may 29th-31st showing people how to make these, as well as limoncello. Come say hi.

Western Vinigar is local, right?

Western Vinigar is local, right?

Beauty has no price

Beauty has no price



Getting ready

Getting ready