WTF is a Ramp and Why Shouldn't I Eat Them?

ramps photo

Photo credit: Emma Alter

According to the Globe and Mail all my exhortations to readers to buy wild leeks, otherwise known as ramps as a healthy, local, sustainable wild harvest may be tragically mistaken.It seems that this once little known spring treat has turned into a trendy, hot commodity and the risk of over harvesting is very real. I always buy my ramps from Forbes Wild Foods, whose business has been built on the sustainable harvest of wild foods throughout Canada. But less knowledgeable, or perhaps even unscrupulous pickers may be destroying the future of this wonderful crop. Picking a wild leek means picking the entire plant, with no means of regeneration next year.

I was rather surprised to read that in Quebec it is illegal to sell wild leeks. After over harvesting in the 1990's, the government of Quebec stepped in to pass legislation to protect the wild leek. In fact, the government only allows the harvest of 50 bulbs a season for personal use. No only are chefs not allowed to cook with them, they are not allowed to import them from other provinces.

fiddleheads photo

Photo credit: Emma Alter
Fiddleheads are faring only slightly better. Their popularity is also increasing dramatically and the Globe and Mail reports that a plant in Quebec processes 60,000 tonnes a day during the fiddlehead season. They are foraging in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the northeastern United States. According to Jonathan Forbes of Forbes Wild Foods, you can't take more than 3 out of 7 fronds on a fiddlehead plant without endangering it.

I read a lot of food websites and see a lot of recipes and I know that there has been an explosion in the interest in both ramps and fiddleheads in the past year alone, both in restaurants and home use. Let's hope when spring arrives next year, there will be ramps and fiddleheads to greet it.

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