fig. a: Nino's ramps
It hasn't been the most prolific year for ramps in this area in large part because the government of Quebec decided to crack down on the sale of ramps again (for more on this phenomenon, see last year's ramps post). We went by Chez Nino (at Jean-Talon Market) early in the season and he had the first of the ramps on offer, but they weren't the nicest we'd seen, so we held off, thinking we'd come back in a week to see what the next batch looked like. When we did, we found out that Nino had been raided, their sale of ramps brought to a halt. Surely their ramps weren't from Quebec and surely they had the paperwork to show that they'd actually come from Ontario or upstate New York or someplace else--whatever the case, they sure didn't have any ramps and they weren't sure if they were going to be able to have any before season's end. That's when Michelle decided to take things into her own hands. She got on the horn and and left a message with "Raoul". She knew that if anyone in town had ramps for sale, it'd be Raoul, a contact from her days at Les Chèvres, and she was positive they'd be beautiful. The very next day we came home to find a message waiting for us from Raoul in his inimitable gravelly voice--our very own Deepthroat. He was going to be getting ramps later in the week, the message said; he'd give us a call when he did. Three days later, not only had Raoul managed to score his Ontario ramps, but he was delivering them to our door. He didn't bother ringing the doorbell, he just called from the street on his cell phone and Michelle dashed out to exchange unmarked bills for her precious bundles of ramps. I looked out the window to see if I could get a glimpse of the shadowy Raoul, but the windows on his truck were tinted and, anyway, at over 200 paces, the distance was too great to get a good view. When Michelle reemerged, she looked like this:
fig. b: "Raoul's" ramps
Might not look like much, but that's something in the neighborhood of $70 worth of this highly coveted commodity. Plus, not all of them were for us. Michelle had gotten the word out to some of her ramps-loving friends, so a few bunches were already accounted for. In any case, having already succeeded in making the world's most expensive marmalade earlier this year, Michelle decided it was time that she proceeded to make the world's most expensive pickles too. The double whammy. We trimmed the tentacles from the bottoms of the ramps, but otherwise nothing went to waste. The white parts of the ramps mostly went into Michelle's terribly exclusive pickled ramps; the greens we ate raw, as-is, we added them to salads, we sauteed them,
fig. c: NY strip steak, mushrooms, fiddleheads and ramps greens sauté
and I even made a couple of risottos with them. They've got a whole lot of flavor, so a little goes a long way.
Want to make your own jar (or two) of the world's most expensive pickles?** Michelle made two recipes this year, including this one. [Note: this recipe doubles as a Pickled Scallions recipe for those who can't get their hands on ramps or who'd like to make something a little less exclusive]
Lee Bros.' Pickled Scallions
2 pounds ramps or scallions
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp kosher salt
1 quart plus 1 cup water, room temperature
4 cloves garlic, peeled
4 dried hot chiles, such as Thai or Arbol
2 cups distilled vinegar
2 tsp sugar
2 pint-sized mason jars, with rims and lids
With a small paring knife, trim the roots from the ramps (or scallions) plus any outer leaves that look tired or wilted. Cut them crosswise 4 inches from the root end and reserve the greens for another use.
In a 2-quart bowl, dissolve 1/4 cup salt in 1 quart water. Add the ramps (or scallions), garlic, and chiles, and weigh them down with a small, clean plate to keep them submerged, if necessary. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight.
Fill a 3-quart pot 3/4 full of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Using tongs or a jar lifter, carefull set the jars on their sides, along with their lids, in the boiling water to sterilize. Boil for 15 minutes, then remove the jars from the water with tongs or a jar lifter and set aside.
Pour the vinegar and 1 cup water into a 1-quart saucepan. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons salt and the sugar and bring to a boil.
Drain the ramps (or scallions), garlic, and chiles. Dip the tongs into the boiling vinegar brine for a few minutes, then use them to transfer the ramps or scallions, garlic, and chiles to your sterilized mason jars. If the bulb ends of the ramps (or scallions) are stout, pack half of them into each jar with their root ends facing down, and the remaining half with their root ends facing up, to maximize the space in each jar. Pour the brine into the jars and tap them to release any air bubbles. Place the lids on the jars, seal, and set aside to cool. Allow the ramps (or scallions) to steep in the refrigerator for 2 days before serving. Pickled scallions will keep for about 4 weeks in the refrigerator.
[recipe from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook]
Anyway, had we only managed to get our hands on Raoul's backdoor ramps, I think we would have refrained from posting about it. But just this week we stopped by Nino again, and, out of the blue, ramps were back. Act fast, because just like fiddleheads,
fig. d: fiddleheads
this is in all certainty the last week they're going to be available. Sure they're a little pricey, but isn't that the case with everything that's similarly rare, similarly fleeting, similarly singular?
*This name has been changed to protect "Raoul's" identity.
**Of course, if you foraged your ramps, like you're supposed to, they'd cost next to nothing and wouldn't be very exclusive at all.