[Photo: Eater Philly]
Every year, Philly goes apeshit for ramps, the first sign that Spring is on the way, and our veggie production fortunes are about to change. Dreamboat chef Jason Cichonski of Ela has been foraging ramps for years at a few secret locations around the area with business partner Chip Roman (Ela, Mica, Blackfish) and Eater tagged along to learn a little about the tasty, but aloof leafy vegetable.
"Ramps are in the allium family, like leeks. It produces a spicy, leafy green, and a sweet, garlicky bulb. The season only lasts about four to six weeks, depending on the weather," Cichonski said while climbing a hill near Mica by the Wissahickon Creek. "The seeds will only produce bulbs after 3 years, so that's why they're expensive, along with the fact you need to know where to find them."
Cichonski added that ramps can't be cultivated using traditional methods, and that they have a deep and intricate root structure that can easily be wiped out if foragers aren't careful.
"When you find a field of ramps, you should only take a third of what you see at most," said Cichonski. "If you over-pick, they won't come back next season, so respect them if you plan on doing your own foraging. We probably have about two more weeks or so in this years crop."
Ramps grow all over the East Coast, but require a close water source like a creek and flourish on hillsides where drainage isn't an issue. Cichonski pointed out a few local spots where ramps have done well, including Chestnut Hill close to Mica, in deep South Philly in FDR Park, and in Lemon Hill off Kelly Drive. Cichonski added that his sous chef, Billy Riddle, dropped seeds a few years ago in some new fertile spots that should be producing bulbs next year.
If you decide to head out to do some of your own foraging, make sure you take a spade, and follow the rules set forth by the always-beautiful Chef Cichonski. But, if you're too lazy to get out there, you can always stop by Ela, where they're running a special of baby octopus with Chinese barbecue sauce and grilled pickled ramps on a cornbread puree.