Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Spring Ramps and Winecap Mushrooms

Ramps crepes stuffed with sauteed winecaps and grain, with a potato/winecap puree and crispy fried winecaps

More wonderful, wild signs of spring are emerging each day here in southeastern New England. Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up, carpeting some areas of forest floor with their onion-garlic funk, and winecap mushrooms (Stropharia rugosoannulata) have been loving the damp, drizzly weather, fruiting by the hundreds in wood chips across the state. 

We rarely dig our ramps anymore; once we have put up two quart jars of pickled bulbs, it is all leaves for our dinners. We carefully collect one simple, lance-shaped leaf from each bulb that has more than one visible; sometimes there are up to four per bulb. It might seem tedious, and some have insinuated that it is "such a pain to take just one", but it promises the continuation of the many patches from which we collect. The waxy leaves contain all of the good flavor of the bulbs, with an added nutritional boost from a green vegetable. The leaves are also much more versatile in cooking than the bulbs: they can be chopped, stuffed, pureed, dried, frozen, fermented, and for the brave, eaten raw.

Once you dig the whole bulb, you have killed the plant, meaning you have reduced your harvest for next year. Collecting one leaf per plant ensures the plant can still photosynthesize sunlight to produce energy, and the bulb is the underground storage organ for the plant, the battery, if you will. Once the plant has collected enough energy and the bulbs are swollen and large, the bulb of mature plants will send up the flower stalk in hopes of fertilization by insects and bees. The seeds are borne in clusters of 3, spherical  in shape (hence the "tricoccum" in the Latin binomial), ripening from green to glossy black. Later in June, once the bulb has expended its energy on flower and seed production, the bulb becomes flabby and deteriorates slightly, and the leaves yellow and die back, the bulb goes into a dormant state until next spring, keeping the plant alive through the cold winter. The seeds have a low germination rate, and likely require a year or two in favorable soil before they sprout into a new plant. More often we have witnessed bulbs splitting as a reproductive method in a large, healthy patch.

An ideal cooking companion of spring of the pungent ramp is the winecap mushroom. It can be found in mild, wet weather, fruiting in both spring and fall. It is a wood decayer, saprobic on wood chips, compost, or mulch. The white mycelial threads attached to the end of the sturdy stems can be collected along with an infected quantity of wood chips and "transplanted" to a new site to cultivate winecaps in a more convenient location: your back yard. 

Small Gillian, big winecap
Winecaps sometimes grow in great quantities, all in different stages of growth. They have purplish-grey attached gills and a deep purple-black sporeprint. There is usually a prominent cogwheel-shaped ring remaining on the stem that once covered the gills with a thin layer of tissue in young buttons. The cap can be quite large, 1"-6" wide or larger, and many shades of tan through burgundy based upon weather conditions or age. Winecaps are hefty mushrooms, and hold up well to  cooking, going well with many other ingredients.

Winecap risotto-filled ramps "chops", grilled

So, using our seasonal wild foods, we cooked many dinners at home and shared some more. Extra large ramps leaves got used in a stuffed ramps leaf dish; basically a leaf-wrapped turkey meatball cooked in a yellow-pepper sauce. Fresh leaves get pureed to add to crepe batter. More get stuffed with a winecap risotto before getting grilled, leaving the stem intact and acting like the bone handle of a "chop". Winecaps are cooked with potatoes and pureed into a smooth sauce that goes nicely with those ramps crepes, stuffed with sauteed winecaps and grains, and served with crispy-fried winecap slices. Ramps leaves are made into a room-clearing, pungent pesto, then twisted with mozzarella cheese into breadsticks for a snack. Ah, the spring wild food cooking possibilities!

Ramps leaf pesto breadstick twists

Stuffed ramps rolls, filled with ground turkey and quinoa

1 comment:

Coon Hollow Farm said...

Looking forward to meeting you at Ansonia Nature Center next Saturday and buying one of your books!!!