Category Archives: preserving

Wild Ramp Aioli

ramp1Every year for Memorial Day weekend our family goes camping with several other families in a beautiful canyon in the rain shadow of the Cascades, where we have a decidedly better shot at some sun.

The food is always over the top. In past years we’ve barbecued a whole pig, grilled Copper River salmon over the fire, dug holes in the ground for Dutch ovens to make Chicken in the Dirt, and prepared all sorts of appetizers and dinners with our foraged morels and spring porcini.

But the dish that everyone seems to clamor for most is an elaborate concoction of smoked baby potatoes with black garlic vinaigrette and wild ramp aioli. (Ramps are a type of wild leek that grows east of the Rockies.) For years I thought my friend J had invented this carnival of flavors, but it turns out the Danish expat by way of San Francisco picked up the recipe during his Bay Area years, from a little joint you may have heard of called Bar Tartine.

I don’t normally have the patience to put all those pieces together into a single dish. Instead I wait for its fireside appearance each spring, knowing J can’t go without. The ramp aioli by itself, however, is right in my wheelhouse, so when I got a message from my mushroom hunting pal David saying that some fresh ramps were coming my way, compliments of his employer Earthy Delights, I knew just what to do.

ramp4This wasn’t my first brush with ramps. I’ve seen plenty while picking morels back east. Ramps are beloved in the Appalachians, especially in West Virginia where nearly every little mountain town has a ramp festival, and in the northern woods of Michigan. On my last visit to the Upper Peninsula I picked ramps with friends from Marquette. But that was a while ago, and if there’s one wild food I wished was native to the Pacific Northwest, the ramp would be near the top of the list.

To make this wild ramp aioli I used pickled ramps. The recipe is a conflation of Earthy Delight’s version and Tartine’s. You can use fresh ramps, too, and in a few weeks I plan to update this post after using ramps that are currently fermenting in my basement, which is the method that my friend J and Bar Tartine prefer.

ramp23 pickled or fermented ramps*, with tops**
1/2 tsp dried mustard
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil
2 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste

1. Place food processor bowl and blade in freezer for 15 minutes if possible.

2. Chop ramps. (I used previously pickled ramp bulbs and fresh tops—see notes below.)

3. Add chopped ramps, dried mustard, peppercorns, cider vinegar, lemon juice, and egg yolk to food processor and process until well mixed together, about 30 seconds.

4. Combine oils and slowly add to processor. Ingredients should thicken to a mayo-like consistency. Continue to add oil. Add salt to taste and more lemon juice or vinegar if necessary.

5. Refrigerate in a tightly sealed container.

Makes enough to fill a 6-oz jelly jar.

The ramp aioli will have the rich flavor and creamy consistency of a typical aioli or mayonnaise, but with the added garlicky bite of wild ramps. Using just the yolk and not the egg white will give it more body. For a chunkier aioli with flecks of bright green ramp tops, don’t over-process (unlike mine pictured above).

* Pickled Ramps recipe:

1lb ramps
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp fennel seed
2 tsp mixed peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp salt

1. Cut off root tips from ramps and trim leaves, leaving just a little green. Reserve tops for another use. Rinse ramps.

2. Blanche trimmed ramps in a pot of salted boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove and quickly shock under cold tap. Pat dry and place in a pint-sized canning jar.

3. Combine pickling ingredients in saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over ramps and set aside to cool. Seal tightly and refrigerate up to two months.

** If using fresh ramps for the aioli, cut off the tops (the green leaves) and then blanche the tops in boiling water for 30 seconds, shock under cold tap, and squeeze out excess water before adding to food processor.

Licorice Fern Liqueur

licorice_fern1As I wrote in a recent issue of Seattle Magazine, now is the time to seek out one of the Pacific Northwest’s most striking ferns for your summertime mixology needs—before it retires for the year. The licorice fern is a beauty that lives in colonies in mixed lower-elevation forests, often well up in the tree canopy.

I typically see it adorning mossy big-leaf maples, where its roots, known as rhizomes, form an interconnected latticework beneath the moss. It will also colonize suitably moss-covered alders, madrones, and even glacial erratics, those big boulders left over from the last Ice Age that sometimes squat unaccountably in the middle of the woods. The key is finding some within reach.

Licorice ferns in abundance will form green waves undulating through the forest until the heat of summer causes the waves to collapse and the individual ferns to whither away. With winter rains they come back to life: just add water.

The flavor of the root is licorice-like, yes, and also spicy like fresh ginger. Infused in water or vodka, it makes a slightly picante syrup or liqueur that will remind you of the mesmerizing glades of spring licorice fern as you sip a thirst-quenching summer cocktail.

1. Peel and chop a few finger-length pieces of licorice fern root.

2. Cover chopped roots in a half-pint canning jar with vodka (for a liqueur) or water (for a syrup).

3. Refrigerate for two to three weeks, shaking every few days.

4. Strain and measure liquid. Make a simple syrup of equal parts water and sugar that is half the amount of reserved liquid. For example, with my 2/3 cup of fern-infused liquid I made a syrup with 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup sugar. To make the syrup, boil the water and whisk in sugar until fully dissolved. Allow syrup to cool, then add to reserved liquid.

Licorice fern liqueur can jazz up a refreshing glass of soda water, improve a cheap prosecco, or comfortably join the other esoteric mixers at your cocktail bar.

Chokecherry Jelly

chokecherry1Last week Martha and I spent a couple days mountain biking near Winthrop, Washington, not far from North Cascades National Park. On our way home we couldn’t resist stopping off at a few roadside patches bursting with fruit. Elderberries were already ripening, and chokecherry trees hung heavy in the sun.

The chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) is a shrub or small tree native to much of North America, mostly above the Mason-Dixon line. Here in Washington State, as in much of the Western U.S., chokecherries prefer drier habitats (in our case, rain-shadow terrain east of the Cascade Crest), such as arid canyons, gullies, and scrubby benches above lakes or streams, where you’ll sometimes find them clustered with elderberries and serviceberries. Named for their astringency, chokecherries get sweeter as they darken, but if you wait too long the birds and other critters will nab them first.

Martha and I grabbed plastic grocery bags repurposed just for such an occasion (I always keep a few handy in the car) and started pulling bunches of fruit from the trees as cedar waxwings and robins voiced their disapproval from above. Martha tasted one off the vine; her mouth went into an instant and involuntary pucker. Though it was a little early, we scouted for trees with the ripest fruit, knowing this harvest would need some sugar at home. It didn’t take long to amass several pounds between the two of us.

Jelly is probably my favorite use for chokecherries. I’ve also had them in a chunkier form preserved in sweet syrup. This was on the Umatilla Indian Reservation during the First Foods ceremony last spring. Along with a variety of roots, huckleberries, venison, and, of course, salmon, the chokecherry is revered by the Umatilla as one of their original food staples, and no wonder. They grow in profusion throughout the drier parts of the Pacific Northwest, and with a little processing that involuntary pucker becomes a lip-smacking grin.

We washed and rinsed our chokecherries at home and then covered them with water in a kettle. The kitchen soon filled with a distinctive cherry aroma as they simmered on the stove. After processing the fruit we had two quarts of fuchsia-colored juice. One quart got put up for a future jelly-making session and the other went back into the pot. The resulting jelly is easily one of the most beautiful for its luminous color, right up there with Rosehip Jelly. It’s pink and doesn’t look like anything you’d expect to find in nature. Even with added pectin, the jelly is soft and smooth, barely holding together, which is just how we like it.

This recipe is for 4 cups of chokecherry juice. It’s on the tart side. If you like your jelly sweeter, or you have less juice, adjust accordingly. You’ll need to add a commercial pectin because chokecherries are low in natural pectin.

4 cups chokecherry juice
5 cups sugar
1 package (1.75 oz) dry pectin
1/2 cup lemon juice

1. Cover chokecherries with water in a non-reactive stock pot and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, occasionally mashing softened chokecherries with a potato masher. Allow to cool, then strain juice through cheesecloth or jelly bag.

2. Return 4 cups chokecherry juice to pot along with pectin and lemon juice. Bring to boil and add sugar, stirring. After a minute of hard boiling (careful not to foam over), reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring.

3. Remove from heat and skim foam. Ladle into sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch head room, and secure lids. Process jars in hot water bath for 10 minutes.