A little over a year ago, Dave joined the East Chatham Fire Company as a volunteer firefighter. Since then, he has taken many fire safety classes, become an EMT, responded to a multitude of calls (both fire and EMS) and, all in all, grown to love becoming a part of that organization and the work it requires.
There is no doubt that the ECFC does indispensable, and sometimes life-saving, community service. That being said, the most valuable thing that has come as a result of Dave’s membership is unquestionably his acquaintance with Chief Dennis.
Why? Because Chief Dennis knew where the ramps were.
The girls and I had gone searching for ramps in the rain through the woods one day and didn’t find a single one.
We cried out to the heavens; we begged for guidance; we made offerings to the ramp Gods.
And our cries were heard and answered.
Chief Dennis sent us directions.
And the directions were the really great kind of directions that you only get in a small town. They were something like, “Take the main road out of town until you get to where the Old Connor Place used to be. Swing a left there and just up the road past the beaver dam, but before the giant rock, you should see them coming up.”
And we did.
Dave and I had never seen so many ramps in one place in our lives. Having never picked ramps before, we most certainly had underestimated the amount of effort it would require to extract them from the earth. After about an hour, however, we’d made a pretty decent haul and decided to quit for the day.
We’ve since been back four more times.
The ramps only get bigger and better the longer they have to grow. A friend of ours won’t even start picking them until they have three leaves but we are a) impatient and 2) greedy. Neither of these characteristics allows for that kind of waiting. The early ramps are delicious and lovely and ideal for use in cooking (sautéed and grilled, especially). The bigger they get, the better they are for pickling. And, quite honestly, there’s not much in this world better than a pickled ramp.
Chef JP Dawson takes the pickled ramp and elevates it to a religious experience with his ramp kimchee–a dish that might just be the most excellent thing on earth.
The only problem with how wonderful ramps are is that folks have started to notice. When folks start to notice that something is delicious, they start to want to eat it more frequently, and when they want to eat it more frequently, the supply becomes threatened.
This is exactly what’s happening with ramps.
As more and more restaurants offer ramps on their menus and more organizations offer Ramp Festivals, the demand will drive some foragers to over-pick and deplete entire populations. This is precisely how a wild edible goes from being a sustainably-foraged food to one that is unsustainable. But there are ways to avoid being part of the problem while still getting to enjoy ramps.
Namely: pick some, transplant some, leave behind more than you take.
While we could certainly devote our days to picking every last ramp in Chief Dennis’ Field of Dreams, that would be counter to our ramp harvesting goals, to say nothing of our goals concerning taking care of the environment in general.
We limit ourselves to a couple of containers. When they are full, we leave, no matter how hard it is to do so. Each visit, we dig up one fat clump of ramps for transplanting in the woods behind our farm. It is our hope that these transplants will be the start of a new ramp population and, someday, there will be as many ramps in our previously ramp-free woods as there are in the field past the beaver dam.
And, for the next few weeks anyway, while Dave is on fire calls and sitting in classrooms, I’ll be muddying my jeans in the woods up the road.