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Take a walk on the wild side

Ramps are wild leeks, distant cousins of asparagus. They are harvested by foraging in the wild and cannot be cultivated, although they can be transplanted into appropriate soil and shade conditions.
Contributed photo

May 8, 2013

Ramps. I’ve heard the word bandied about for years here in the country, but until now, was completely ignorant about them. With the onset of gorgeous weather and the shedding of the coats, I decided that rather than relying on armchair research, I’d head out for Ramps Fest in Callicoon, NY ( to see what all the fuss is about.

Camera in hand and Wonder Dog at my side, I arrived prepared, having jotted down a few questions in my notebook, assuming I’d run into some people who were more informed than I. By foregoing research on the Internet, I was flying blind, but instead of being frightened (admittedly, I’m a little delicate) I felt free and unencumbered, ready to tackle the subject through honest-to-goodness human interaction. What a concept.

I glanced at my notes and reviewed the first deep, probing question: What are ramps? Stopping at the information booth ( to inquire, market manager Danielle Gaebel took me by the hand and escorted me to “ramps expert” Jen McGlashan from Channery Hill Farm (check them out on Facebook) who was engaging a small crowd with her excitement over the green, leafy, funny-looking plants that appeared to be the star attraction.

McGlashan noticed me scribbling away and snapping pics, so she waved me over and happily answered some of my queries. “They’re wild leeks,” she said, “related to asparagus; they grow very slowly in the forest, from late April to early May.” That sounded like a fairly brief window of opportunity for harvest and Jen concurred. “Ramps have become the quintessential great fad local to this region,” she explained. “They really can’t be commercially cultivated, take up to seven years to mature, are only found in the wild and are native to this area.” I learned that McGlashan is one of a group known as Slow-Food UpDeRiVa and asked about the odd name. “We’re the local chapter of Slow Food USA,” she explained, “and it means Upper Delaware River Valley.” Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather, since I’ve written those words more than a few times. “Man, I am slow on the uptake,” I thought and wrote it down again, lest I forget.