Wild Leeks: First Green in the Sugarbush
What Are Leeks? The Wild Leeks of Spring!
"Wild leeks," also called "ramps," often grow in expansive communities wherever they are found in the eastern United States, and more sparely here in eastern Canada. Possessing a familiar but much smaller onion-like tuber bulb, unlike the onion they have long, wide leaves that have a pale green color. Their stalks often have a purple, burgundy or rusty-red color.
Their flavor of wild leeks is unique, possessing both the common onion bite with a potent garlic-like quality that is difficult to describe. The taste is very umami.
The smell of raw leeks on anyone's breath is unmistakable for the sulfur-like fire of bad breath cannot be denied. A curious fact remains that the diner whom has eaten leeks or stew of leeks does not notice it so much on own breath, only upon the breath of others. Such is the lore of wild leeks.
Wild Leeks (also called "Ramps") in the Green Grocer or Roadside Vegetable Stand
“Allium tricoccum” is their name; -a member of the onion family (“Allium”) their pungent smell and flavor has both attracted and repelled people for of equal yolk for generations. Annual gatherings to celebrate the leek in cuisine are often referred to as 'stinkfest' and gather fanciers of these odoriferous plants from far and wide.
What Are Wild Leeks?
Survivalists know that even in the wintertime it is possible to dig up wild leek bulbs if you know where to search. To randomly dig among the frozen ground in groves or forests of sugar maple may inadvertently unearth the dormant white bulb that lays just shallow inches beneath the frozen topsoil mulch.
A handful of these frozen bulbs and a hibernating flying squirrel wrested from a standing punky hollow tree could make an impromptu albeit austerity meal for the stranded hiker or lost hunter facing the night alone in the woods without proper provisions.
A small roast or steak wrapped with several leek leaves will take some flavor. Roasted, stewed or made into soup, leeks have a unique flavor that nearly anyone whom has ever tried it, enjoys. -You just have to get past the stink of the raw leeks after they have been eaten. May I suggest a breath mint or two?
Have You Ever Had a Wild Leeks, Ham Slice and Mayonnaise Sandwich?
The bulbs, stems and leaves can be eaten raw, stewed, fried or any other way you can imagine. Fans of wild leeks will tend you unequivocally that the smaller the bulb the hotter the flavor. Their intense flavor is unique and unparalleled by the larger domestic leeks.
Where the Wild Leeks Grow
Wild leeks tend to grow best in the presence of maple trees. In the parlance of maple syrup producers, large groves of maple trees are called 'sugarbush' and it is here that often is home to massive groves of wild leeks. Apart from local beliefs of wild leeks being a good spring tonic, they are rich in both sulfur and selenium, two minerals being studied for their potential in cancer prevention.
Wild Leeks are not for Everyone
Some people have lower tolerance for wild leeks and consuming more than just a smattering can cause them to feel ill. But the effect is temporary. Most fans of wild leeks really love them and many whom have never tried leeks are surprised to discover that they too enjoy the taste.
Among the recently initiated to wild leek culture is none other than my wife. A recent visit to my father's place in rural New York State proved my point.
Several minutes of digging wild leeks from his very backyard (transplanted there by myself in my teenage years and now growing and propagating quite nicely) yielded enough leeks for a 2-gallon pot of my oft-bragged about creamy-style leek and potato soup.
For an amazingly-flavored steak from the grill, layer a bed of large wild leeks leaves over a barbecue grill and place the steak on top and let the flames char the leeks and cook the steak. The smoky flavor of charred leeks penetrate the steak for an unforgettable flavorful meal.
Dug and Washed Wild Leeks
Here in Canada, wild leeks are not as plentiful and widespread as they are in the eastern United States. Over-harvesting has been roundly accused.
In Quebec Province, wild leeks have a protected species protection status due to their rarity. Strict enforcement on quantities that can be possessed are in effect, and this precludes the wild leek from commercial availability. -You likely won&'t find leek soup or leek products in restaurants like are often found in the most of Eastern U.S. and generally throughout the Appalachian region where they enjoy their greatest popularity. The state of Maine also has some restriction on harvesting wild leeks as well, according to Wikipedia.
Washed, Cleaned and Ready to Cook, Wild Leeks!
But if you are lucky enough to come into possession of these precocious wild onions of the woods, a really good leek and potato soup can be made.
Potato Leek Soup Recipe
Variations of quantities and ingredients are many, but a favorite Potato & Leeks preparation of mine is as follows:
- Approx. 2-3 cups of washed, chopped wild green leeks (bulbs, stems and leaves) Amount used can vary
- Several diced or chunked yellow potatoes (peeled or unpeeled as per your preference) Amount used can vary
- Several strips of fried crispy bacon or cubed cooked thick ham slice
- Two cans chicken broth soup
- Two cups milk
- One can cream-of-mushroom soup
- Butter, salt
- In a cast iron skillet, fry the bacon (if used) until crispy. If cooked cubed thick ham steak is used instead, this step can be skipped.
- Remove the crisped bacon from the skillet and set aside. Quick-fry the cubed potato cubes of chunks and one cup of the chopped leeks in the still hot and greasy skillet. The potatoes do not have be completely tender.
- Next, combine these ingredients together into a deep saucepan and bring to a boil
- Turn off the heat and add the remainder of the chopped leeks, butter, and seasoning (salt, pepper, etc.) to taste. Stir occasionally until the added leeks become slightly tender. A tablespoon of flour or corn starch can be added as a thickening agent, if you prefer 'creamy style' soup.
- Add the can of cream-of-mushroom soup (optional, but it really increases and improves the creaminess and flavor)
- A small chopped onion can be added if you wish but inclusion is unnecessary. There will be enough onion-garlic flavor from just the leeks.
- Return to stove heat and add the milk or cream. Bring to hot without boiling. Serve immediately.