Wild Leeks: Carefully Foraged Delights

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A patch of wild leeks.

Two days ago, I had a lovely interview Marcy Adzich, a local food forager and owner of Fox Hollow Wild Edibles.  We were discussing some of the early spring bounty that exists for people interested in foraging their own foods.  While there is not a huge amount of variety this early in the season, there are a few major finds for local foodies – notably: wild leeks (ramps), fiddleheads, and morel mushrooms.  What early spring lacks in diversity, it more than makes up for in incredible taste.

During the interview, I was lamenting the fact that I didn’t have my “own” patch of ramps.  Sure, Krista and I have found a few minor clumps of these delicacies in the past, but nothing, really, that we could harvest.

A day later, our luck changed.

During a lovely afternoon hike, Krista and I rounded a corner of trail overlooking a forested valley and, much to our amazement, came across a patch of wild leeks that was easily 10 feet wide.

Looking down the hill, we saw another.

Then another.

And then many, many more.

We had hit the foraging jackpot.

And I immediately started planning some delicious menus.

Now, before I get ahead of myself and start offering recipes for these wild leeks, I should explain what they are and offer some important notes on harvesting them.

Wild leeks are an early spring vegetable in the same family (Allium) as cultivated leeks, onions, and garlic.  The have a huge range – growing throughout the eastern half of North America, from as far south as Georgia up to Northern Ontario and Quebec.

They are identifiable by their broad, smooth, light green leaves, often with deep purple markings on the lower stems, and a green onion-like stalk and bulb. Both the white lower leaf stalks and the broad green leaves are edible.  Ramps grow in groups strongly rooted just beneath the surface of the soil.

They are also, it should be noted, absolutely delicious.

Unfortunately, they are also becoming endangered.

The problem is that they have become quite popular.  And they take a long time to grow.

“They can take up to 5 years to reach maturity,” explains Adzich.  “Which means that even selective harvesting can take its toll.  In fact, there are bans on picking them in Quebec.  And major conservation issues here in Ontario.”

Much of the problem comes from professional pickers who pick indiscriminately and sell in bulk.  But even hobbyists are starting to have an impact.

Adzich understands that if she wants to continue to be able to both sell and enjoy foraged foods such as ramps and fiddleheads, it is important to both preach and practice sustainable harvesting.

“If you find a clump of ramps, take one or two,” she advises.  “Leave the rest.  And never, ever pick a patch bare.”

Similarly, when picking fiddleheads, it is important to pick sparingly.

“If you don’t leave at least 3 per plant, it will die.  Again, pick a few.  Use them as a treat.”

I’ll be touching base with Adzich throughout the spring and summer to find out what else is in season in the wild.

In the meantime, however, I should point out that she is currently selling selectively harvested ramps.  You can reach her at foxhollow.edible@gmail.com

Now, a true forager never shares picking locations.  I didn’t ask where her patches are, and I sure as heck am not going to tell you where I found mine.  Foragers do, on the other hand, share ideas on how to prepare foraged foods.  Adzich gave me a lovely recipe that I will share at the bottom of this post.

I have plenty of plans for my harvested ramps.  One menu that I came up with last night looks a little like this:

Arugula with a wild leek/goat cheese dressing
Spring lamb with a wild leek and morel gravy
Roasted winter heritage potatoes with new chives
Storage apple and new rhubarb crumble with Kawartha Dairy ice cream and this year’s new maple syrup.

Arugula is available from Tall Tree Farms at Market.
Lands End Farm should have some spring lamb.
Fox Hollow Edibles will have ramps and perhaps morels.
There are no shortage of sellers of apples and potatoes from last year.
And Staples Maple Syrup have begun selling this year’s batch.

We’ll also be doing a wild leek/potato soup, some pasta with wild leeks and goat cheese, and a frittata.

Plenty of ideas.

Top of the list, though, is this Quiche recipe from Fox Hollow.  I’ll be making it tonight.


Fiddlehead Quiche with Ramps

4 ramps, chopped ( bulbs and greens)
1 C fiddlehead ferns,well  rinsed and trimmed
1 C milk
2 egg whites plus 1 whole egg (or two eggs)
3/4 C goat cheese, crumbled
3 T Gruyere cheese, finely grated
2 tsp grated lemon zest, optional
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper, sprinkle of thyme to taste

Preheat oven to 350F. Using a refrigerated pie crust or your favorite crust recipe, tuck a rolled-out round of crust into a 9″ tart pan with a removable bottom, pressing it back against the sides. Cover with foil and weight with pie chains or beans, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the weights and foil, and use a pastry brush to brush with a bit of egg white; return to the oven for 5 minutes more, until just set. While hot, sprinkle the Gruyere evenly over the bottom of the crust and set aside.

While the crust bakes, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Clean and trim the fiddleheads if necessary, then boil them until just tender, about 8-10 minutes. Drain, shock in cold water, and set aside. Meanwhile, melt some bacon fat in a skillet; add the chopped ramps and saute, first the bulbs, then the greens, until tender and wilted, adding the blanched fiddleheads in the last minute.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the milk (I actually used part milk and part cream), eggs, goat cheese, lemon zest if using (I intended to, but forgot, and we didn’t miss it), salt and pepper. Stir in the sautéed vegetables. Pour the filling carefully into the prepared crust, and bake until golden brown, approx. 20 minutes. Let the quiche stand for 10 minutes before serving.