While this year's early warm weather has made for something of a ramp windfall, it also suggests future problems, said Frank Lowenstein, a climate scientist with the Nature Conservancy and an avid harvester of wild ramps. Since they're hearty, drought- and cold-resistant, and spend most of their year in the ground, a dry year will not hurt them, Lowenstein explained. "That’s their historical strategy: Get some leaves up and get their sunshine now." But a permanent change to weather patterns could spell disaster.
"The temperatures are warming more at night and more in the winter than they are in the summer and the daytime. So will that mean that more insects survive and you’ll see more insect damage," he asked. "Will trees move their phenology up so they open up their leaves sooner and shade the ramps too much? The forest right now is a very intricate web of interactions and competition that’s pretty well balanced. I think the shifts we’re seeing are going to change those balances, and the effects will be difficult to predict ahead of time."
The more immediate threat facing wild ramps is over-harvesting. In 2011, The Times pointed out that their sale has been outlawed in Quebec since 1995, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park banned harvesting in 2004. Lowenstein said you can harvest responsibly if you're careful: "I harvest one or two leaves from each plant, and I don’t disturb the roots. I think for wild populations, looking for signs of stress, stopping if you see signs they’ve had a lot of harvesters, and only harvesting a few leaves, are the key points." But not everybody does that. New York, The Times found, doesn't restrict ramp harvesting.
One effect of ramps' skyrocketing popularity and price is that they may become a viable farm product after all, thus relieving a lot of the strain from the wild populations. The G-N Ramp Farm in West Virginia sells seeds, bulbs, and books about ramps. They'll also mail you a pound of the fresh ones for $22.05. North Carolina State University has a specialty crops program where it's researching techniques to make ramp farming viable.
Meanwhile, in New York, the unseasonably warm weather may also turn out to be something of a break for ramps. "People are asking for asparagus and tomatoes right now," Barber said. "It doesn’t really fit with the ecological cycle, it fits with the psychological cycle. They want to eat more in keeping with warm weather, whether that’s summer or spring."
[Photos, top to bottom, via George Mendes, Flickr user Heidi Bakk-Hansen, and Flickr user dano272]
Recipe: Aldea's pig ear and ramp salad
By George Mendes
1 lb. Pig ears
1 cup Vinho Verde
1 cup Chicken stock
1 cup Onion, sliced
½ cup Carrots, sliced
1 rib Celery, sliced
3 cloves Garlic, smashed
Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine all ingredients and place into an ovenproof casserole dish. Cover with tin foil and bake for 12 hours. When finished, remove pig ears, blot dry with an absorbent towel. Cut into 1-inch strips and deep fry until crispy in a 375-degree deep fryer.
1 lb. Ramps, washed and roots removed
1 tbs. Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Sear the ramps in a cast iron pan with olive oil, salt and pepper.
12 Piri-Piri peppers or 12 Thai birdseye chilies, thinly sliced
½ cup of olive oil
2 tbs. of whiskey
5 cloves of garlic, minced
5 fresh bay leaves, torn
2 tbs. white wine vinegar
To serve, toss ramps with sliced honey crisp apple and cilantro in a bowl with Piri Piri vinaigrette. Add baby lettuces if desired. Plate and top with slices of deep fried pig ears.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.