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Jeez, another pickled ramp recipe?

Ramps do appear to be this year's trendy food. There also seem to be a lot of pickled ramp recipes floating about lately. Allow me to add my own tried and true ramp pickling recipe to the mix. It's one that I really like to use with ramps especially, because I think the end product is a little unusual. The ramps look cool when you plate them and their flavor is a bit exotic. 

One of the fun things about pickling is that it's such a simple process, but it also allows plenty of room to play with ingredients to create something all your own. I have a few different pickling recipes and two that I specifically use with ramps: one is a recipe I use for making ramps destined to be Bloody Mary or Martini garnishes, and the other is for ramps to be eaten as part of a meal. This is my recipe for the latter; I call it Curried Pickled Ramps.

Ingredients to make 1 pint of Curried Pickled Ramps:

  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbl honey
  • 2 tbl pickling spice *
  • 1 tbl Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 heaping tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 1/2 tsp celery seed
  • 1 heaping tsp smoked salt *
  • pinky finger-sized piece of raw, peeled ginger
  • couple of small Thai peppers (I used dried Thai peppers with today's batch)
  • enough ramps to fill a wide mouth mason pint jar. maybe 1 1/2 lb bunch, cut at the stem so that they fit into the jar vertically

Pickling ingredients ready to go.

1. Wash and sterilize one or two wide mouth mason jars, their lids and bands. Sterilize by setting them in a pot of water to cover and bring it to a boil. After they've boiled for a few minutes set them out on a clean towel to dry.

2. Boil enough water to immerse the ramps in and set up another bowl with cold water and ice cubes. As soon as the water is boiling put the ramps in for about 30 seconds (it's a mighty quick bath to soften them up). As soon as that 30 seconds is up pull them out of the boiling water with a set of salad tongs and plunge them into the ice bath. Let them sit in the ice water until you're finished with the pickling solution.

3. Add the vinegar and all of the other ingredients except for the ginger and Thai peppers to a pot and bring it to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt, and mixing everything else real well. Let it boil (keep stirring) for a minute or two. 

4. Remove the ramps from the ice bath and stuff them bulb end down into the jar. Place the piece of ginger and the Thai peppers into the jar with the ramps (I place them on the outside edge so they are visible, for no other reason than because I like the way it looks). If the ramps are taller than the height of the jar you can take a scissors and cut them down while they're still in the jar, or bend them into the jar.

5. Pour the hot pickling solution into a Pyrex measuring pitcher (I use a 2-cup pitcher) so that it's easier and less messy pouring the solution into the mason jar. Pour the pickling solution into the jar of ramps, separating them a bit with a butter knife as you slowly pour so that the seeds and spices mix in well amongst the ramps. 

6. Wipe the edge of the jar with a clean towel or wash-cloth and seal with the lid and band. That's it! Now let them sit for at least a day to soak up all that good pickling flavor and color. Most refrigerator style pickling recipes say that you ought to use them up within a week or so, and that's probably worthwhile advice, but I've eaten refrigerator pickles (ramps, cukes, tomatoes, squash, radishes, etc) that have been in my fridge for months and they've always been good. But that's me. 

* A word on pickling spice: You can get ready-made pickling spice almost anywhere, or you can make it yourself. There are any number of easily found recipes for it and it is kind of cool to tailor make your own pickling spice. I have come to like a pre-made pickling spice I get from a small Amish country store in north-central Wisconsin. It contains mustard seed, allspice, coriander, cassia, ginger, peppers, cloves, bay leaves and a few other spices. It's got a richer, more clovey, liqueur-like aroma, to my nose, than other pickling spices I've tried.

* I normally don't use smoked salt like I did with this particular batch, but I acquired a jar of wickedly strong smoked salt from my friend Dixie a few weeks ago and have been using it where the opportunity seems appropriate. I only put a teaspoon of it into this mix but didn't really notice it in the final product. So, I think with the next batch I may up that amount to a full tablespoon and see what happens.

These Curried Pickled Ramps are delicious, if I do say so myself. They make a fantastic garnish or a side vegetable all by themselves (as you see in the photo of today's lunch). I've also used them to great effect in sandwiches. They have a great Middle Eastern flavor from the curry, and they look beautiful, with the turmeric and curry turning them to a bright neon-y yellow.

Curried Pickled Ramps...mighty good eating.

After I pickled the bulbs and stalks I had a lot of ramp leaves left over. So, I decided to pickle some of those as well. This time I used the same pickling recipe but left out the turmeric, curry, ginger and smoked salt. I didn't blanch the leaves either, but rather stacked several upon one another and then rolled them into three separate, tight little bundles (see images). I stuffed the bundles into the mason jar and poured the hot pickling solution over them, sealed it up and placed it in the fridge. I'm not sure what I'll do with them yet, but I'm thinking that they will probably be great on sandwiches, chopped up in a salad, as part of a rice or pasta dish, wrapped around some cheese, or any number of other possibilities. I'll let you know how they turn out.

Two images above: rolling ramp leaves before pickling.

Pickled ramp leaves and Curried Pickled Ramps.

After that jar of pickled ramp leaves I still had plenty of them left over, so I made a couple jars of pesto with them, following the recipe for ramp pesto I posted a couple weeks ago. 

Two jars of ramp leaf pesto. Gave one to friend Kim Geiser.

Finally, I had maybe a dozen leaves left and, not wanting to waste anything, I tore them up and took them out to the ducks to see if they'd eat them. The ducks didn't seem very interested in the ramp leaves, only nibbling at a few. But later when I checked on them I noticed that there were no ramp leaves on the floor of the enclosure, so maybe they enjoyed them after all.


We've got ducks!

An interesting thing happened on the way to dinner the other night. What began as a simple plan to enjoy a duck dinner has instead become our first foray into the world of urban farming with animals. 

Our friend, chef Christine Mittnacht, told me some weeks ago that she was going to be butchering several of her ducks. I asked her if I could get one from her, but that she could just give me the live animal and I would take care of the killing and cleaning myself in order to save a few dollars. As a hunter I have of course cleaned a great many critters, and dealing with one duck is quick work.

Not this time...

Cheyenne petitions the warden for the duck's stay of execution.

I made the stupid but predictable mistake of letting my daughters see and hold the duck when I came home with it. Suddenly he had three allies (Kim had immediately joined the two girls in his defense) who were adamant in their protests and pleas to spare his life. It didn't help that the duck also had a little water in one eye as Cheyenne was holding him. Jesse blurted out, "Daddy, look! He's crying!" 

Jesse made urgent promises to be a responsible duck owner.

I really hadn't expected such a passionate response from them. These were, after all, my daughters who used to hunt with me when they were little. They knew what meat acquisition was all about. But I did find their attachment to and defense of the duck rather endearing, and I thought it would be cool if they did want to take on the responsibility of caring for him. So I relented and had them make all of the promises that parents make their kids promise when they beg for a new pet. 

An old machine parts barrel serves as a hutch.

I threw a couple pictures of the girls holding the duck up on facebook, got justifiably laughed at for my lack of spine, subsequently acquired two additional hens from Christine (who messaged me with what I felt was an extra long "hahahahahaaaaaaa") and spent the next two days building a run in the backyard for the trio to live in.

In their new home.

We had planned on getting chickens and/or ducks at some point anyway. It was on the agenda. It just came a little earlier and in a manner slightly askew from the original plan. The ladies have named their fowl: Cheyenne's is the drake, she calls him Cornelius; Jesse calls her brown and white hen Chloe; and after some consternation Kim has settled on Lucky for her black hen. Christine said they are a mixed breed, "barnyard mutts...part pekin, part khaki campbell." Barnyard mutts, I like that.

First egg, I think from Lucky. 4/10/12

Yesterday we received our first egg. A very exciting discovery it was. I still have a bit of work to do on the run and coop (like installing a door), and the ducks are still a bit skittish in their new surroundings. But I'm having fun with them and so is everyone else. Their muted quacking and clucking is almost meditative, their conversations with one another are lively and physically expressive, with a good deal of head bobbing and mutual beak rubbing, and their excitement each time a full pail of clean water is set in the run is entertaining, to say the least.

Cheyenne saying good morning to the trio.

David's tip for the day: Unless you're ready and willing to become a "duck farmer" don't let your daughters hold, pet or name any duck you have intended for the table.

As I was finishing this blog entry this morning we got another egg, this time from Jesse's girl Chloe. 


The beautiful, invasive, edible daylily

I almost can't believe it's been 10 days since I updated this site. So much has gone on in the last week or two that the time has seemed to just flash by. I think I'll be adding updates daily for the next several days, just to cover everything that's been going on.

But today's entry has to do with this morning's breakfast. Yesterday I stopped by my Mom's house after a little foraging hike into a new area (found another ramp trove, young nettles and garlic mustard, as well as a number of young may apples just lifting themselves up from the earth). My Dad is in Alabama for a couple weeks, visiting his brother and doing some fishing, so I stopped by the house to see if Mom needed anything and to check the rhubarb she said was coming up in the back yard. 

Image of daylily flower from, where there is also some nutritional information listed on daylilies. 

As we walked around the perimeter of the yard I was amazed to see how over-run part of it was with daylilies (hemerocallis fulva), or tiger lilies as we've always called them. Shoots from three to ten inches high covered one whole section of the yard next to the house and were dozens more were creeping around the corner and into the ground around a tree. Mom complained that they were pushing into areas where she didn't want them. No problemo, says I, as I grabbed a garden fork and immediately dug up a half dozen or so.

Daylilies showing young shoots/stalks and the root system with small tubers.

I washed the roots off and placed them in a large bowl of water overnight to further loosen any remaining dirt. Daylilies are edible but not all lilies are daylilies. Some can make you very sick indeed. The common daylily or tiger lily is easy to identify, particularly when it is in full flower. The young, flowerless shoots have sword-like leaves and when cut at ground level the stalk resembles a leek in its multiple ringed layers. The real tell-tale sign is in the root. Rather than growing from a single bulb cluster like an Easter lily, daylily roots are a medusa-like tangle of tendrils and little tubers that look like small fingerling potatoes.

Daylily tubers soaking in cold water to clean.

Every part of the daylily is edible, to one degree or another. The best parts, in my opinion, are the unopened flower buds, followed by the flowers themselves, which can be used like you might a squash blossom. Unfortunately, it's still too early here for the buds and flowers to appear. But the stalks and root tubers are available now. 

Cleaned and trimmed stalks and tubers; bottom image shows the interior of the small tubers.

When preparing them I take the shoots and cut the stalks off where they meet the root system. Wash the stalks under running water and trim the side leaves and upper, looser leaves, leaving a fairly tight single stalk. The smallest ones I will toss in a salad or stir fry whole. The larger ones I slice perpendicularly like you might with a leek, and use those pieces the same way, in a salad or stir fry. The stalks are fairly bland, tasting to me like a cross between romaine lettuce and a very mild radish. But they can add some color, nutrition and variety to any number of dishes.

The root tubers require more cleaning but are interesting and kind of fun to work with. Maybe it's because they look like baby baby potatoes...the cuteness factor, I suppose. Separate the little tubers from the tendrils and stems, and wash thoroughly. I wash them in a large bowl, agitating and rubbing handfuls of them together through a few changes of water. The interior of the tubers is whitish and the meat has the texture of a common radish. They're rather mild. When eaten raw they also exhibit an interesting flavor that is slightly sweet but with a mild radish-like, peppery after-taste. Apparently there is a small percentage of the population who may find daylilies disagreeable to their systems. I think I may be on the edge of that group of people, as I find that whenever I eat them raw in anything more than a very small quantity I suffer a little nausea. It's not too dissimilar to the feeling I get when I eat a lot of raw onions or radishes; a kind of gut-achy, nauseous feeling comes over me (but I still eat onions and radishes because I just like them too darn much!). However, cooking seems to nullify whatever substance is in them that causes the discomfort when they are eaten raw.

Breakfast of eggs with ramp pesto and a daylily hash.

This morning I browned some butter with diced garlic and ramps, added several slices of pancetta and threw in a handful of daylily tubers (slicing the larger ones in half) along with a pinch of salt. As they were finshing I added a few sliced stalks to the mix and let it saute for another minute or two. Scooped them from the pan and quickly fried a couple of eggs over-easy, spooned a little ramp pesto over the tops, and that was breakfast. I might add that the tubers smell, to me, a little like peanuts while frying. I wonder if anyone else has that impression as well.

Daylily tubers & stalks, pancetta, garlic and ramps sauteed in hand rolled butter.

Daylilies, a common decorative yard flower; also good to eat. I'll let you know when the flower buds and flowers are table ready!

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