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Almost May

By Kate Gridley, April 26, 2011 - 8:27am

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Spring is late... at least in New England.

I have just returned from a quick trip to Cape Cod (to ride bikes and eat fresh fish) I find myself thinking about what is happening with the growing season in other parts of the country? Cape Cod was a little farther along than the middle of Vermont: the forsythia was in bloom, banks of daffodils lined the roads, and there were discernible pink tinged buds on the trees. And I was served fresh asparagus with ramps one night, next to my fresh fish.

Eating Well readers might well be tired of us Northerners desperately looking for signs of spring, but there it is. Our spring is late, and any fresh green direct from the earth is to be celebrated and savored a bit more keenly.

Ramps, otherwise known as wild leeks (allium tricoccum), are a broad leafed leek, native to eastern North American mountains. They grow as far south as North Carolina and Tennessee, and as far north as Canada. Since they are one of the first edible plants to emerge in spring, there are annual spring festivals in parts of Appalachia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania counties celebrating this fresh first vegetable. As part of the food movement, they have become wildly popular in upscale urban restaurants.

This popularity has led to over harvesting, and in some areas, Quebec, for instance, ramps are a protected species. In Maine and Rhode Island, ramps are a species of "special concern".

So what to think? Do I eat this delicate, garlicky and onion -y flavored, first green? Is there an opportunity for someone to cultivate ramps?

I have to confess that as someone who wishes to eat local, I do tend to focus on what is in season, knowing that seasons are fleeting, and there are flavors associated with different times of year. And there are times when I can not have some of the ingredients I wish to have. The season of the root cellar, carrots in sand, bags of dusty potatoes, and the remaining onions from last year's harvest, is coming to an end. I dream of tiny new potatoes, baby carrots, spring onions, and, yes, the fresh peas to come in a few weeks. But meanwhile, I relish the taste of a season's first greens -- which, if they are something special, like ramps, I might only eat sparingly. Then I look ahead to the brief season of fiddleheads. While the garden sleeps, I am compelled inexorably to forage -- just a little.

My sleepy vegetable garden is slowly emerging. The sorrel is almost ready to be picked.

TAGS: Kate Gridley, Gardening


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