Saturday, April 9, 2016
Ramps are back (Union Square Green Market, Manhattan)
I'm not sure why I love ramps so much. Taste alone doesn't explain it (although they're delicious). I think it has something to do with the fact that it's unusual to find food that's grown and harvested in the wild which is edible from the tip of its roots to the end of its leaves--and that ends up in a farmers market, so I don't have to tramp around the wilderness myself to find it.
I've seen this particular man with a table full of ramps every spring for the last several years. He's in Union Squre most Saturdays, selling potatoes and homemade potato chips, but only in April and part of May is he hawking ramps. So the seasonality of ramps is also appealing--knowing that I only have a few weeks to enjoy them.
And now that I've said all that, I want to point out that it's important to collect ramps responsibly. As soon as I posted this photo on Instagram, I searched for other photos tagged #rampseason and found this photo by besupstate, which explains that "it takes a ramp plant 5-7 years to fully mature before it drops its seeds" and urges ramp lovers to "consider cooking with the stems and greens only, leaving the bulbs in the ground. Let's forage sustainably so we don't deplete them." That led me to the ramp entry on Wikipedia, which has a section on conservation, which reads, in part:
Allium tricoccum is a protected species under Quebec legislation. A person may have ramps in his or her possession outside the plant's natural environment, or may harvest it for the purposes of personal consumption in an annual quantity not exceeding 50 bulbs or 50 plants, provided those activities do not take place in a park within the meaning of the National Parks Act. The protected status also prohibits any commercial transactions of ramps; this prevents restaurants from serving ramps as is done in the United States.... Ramps are considered a species of "special concern" for conservation in Maine, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. They are also considered "commercially exploited" in Tennessee. Ramp festivals may encourage harvest in unsustainable quantities.
So I hope this man, and anyone who makes a living from collecting and selling ramps, doesn't let them go the way of the dodo or passenger pigeon or any of these extinct plants. And I hope that my enjoyment of them--and my extolling them here--doesn't contribute to an unsustainable demand. I'd be happy to eat them without the bulbs, so I hope vendors start selling them that way.