This was the third time the subject had been raised. I sensed in chef Jason’s questioning tone a distinct dash of demand. The first time I had brushed it off. “What do I know about ramps? I’m a gardener!” The second time I suggested that he contact the person who alerted him to the bounty of ramps and ask him exactly where “down by the stream” they could be found. It seems, however, that neither of these approaches was satisfactory.
So I did what I always do in these situations: I called my son, the farmer. When Kevin was half my age he had the questions and I had the answers. Now that the ratio of our ages is 7:12 the situation has reversed. It is a beautiful thing.
Ramps, Kevin explained, are not the same thing as the rampant onion grass that grows in every garden crevice. “The leaves are much wider, about the width of daffodil foliage, and the stalks are purplish red.” Known as wild leeks, they are native to North America and grow in the rich forest soils under sugar maple, ash, and beech. Where Dutchman’s breeches and bloodroot grow, wild leeks might also be found. And the time to find them is right now … which explains chef Jason’s escalating insistence. “He should call Chuck,” Kevin advised. “He’ll know where they are.”
I dutifully emailed Jason with this information, and Chuck’s phone number. I can imagine him opening this email just as he is preparing to shave a batch of yellow carrots, or unleash his considerable powers on the fresh Hakurei turnips I harvested yesterday. Ramps-on-a-platter is what he wants. Not the name of a person who can explain which part of the muddy ground he must tramp through to locate the elusive cache.
I give him beautiful yellow-ribbed chard and baby arugula. Mizuna at its spicy peak, golden beets, and bundles of thyme. He wants a wild plant gone trendy because it is hunted not nurtured, desire driven by a vestige of primal survival. To put on my Costa Rican rubber boots and go mucking through the woods in search of ramps would, in truth, be preferable to further testing my strained knee with a garden fork. But can I risk an hour of not planting cauliflower, checking groundhog traps, and inspecting pea seedlings for the mere possibility of finding ramps?
Who will win: the gardener? … or the naturalist.
The word hovers. It slinks around the edges of my weekend. From the car window I scan the hollows for lily-of-the-valley-like foliage.