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  • Andrea K. Marcinkus

Finally Spring! (and a recipe for foraged onions & garlic)

Wild ramps and wild chives.
Wild ramps and wild chives.

Finally, the snow is finished (although it is still April in Chicagoland, so don't hold your breath) and the soil is warming, but it is still too early for morel mushrooms and the pheasant back/dryad's saddle mushrooms still haven't emerged. The first of the green is starting to show on the forest floor - nettles, gooseberry leaves, ramps and chives!

Chicagoland is home to many wild allium species, and in fact, one of the theories behind the city's name comes from the French version of the Miami-Illinois word shikaakwa (“Stinky Onion”), named for the garlic plant Allium tricoccum, or what we call ramps. Ramps grow in moist soil in heavily shaded and wooded areas. My favorite morel hunting spot in Wisconsin is loaded with them, so normally I wait and harvest both at the same time. This year, some of my friends have been posting their early ramp photos online, and I couldn't wait any longer. I took my best guess from my known foraging grounds as to which would be wet enough this time of year to possibly have ramps, and my educated guess paid off. not only did I harvest the ramps in the photo above (I only took what I needed and didn't want to over-pick so there are plenty for later and for others) but I also found carpets of wild chives!

Wild chives (Allium schoeneprasum) are easy to spot and grow in a wide variety of soils. I even have them coming up in a corner in my back yard. They are easy to mistake for grass, but if you step on it and they smell like onions, you have chives. You can pull them up by the bulb and use the whole plant, minus the roots, or just cut the leaves. Because there were so many, I decided to pull them so we could eat the bulbs as well.

Chopped ramps, chives and roots.
Chopped ramps, chives and roots.

Because the weather turned cooler the next day (yup, there is that snow again), I decided to turn my foraging prizes into a potato, bacon, ramp and chive soup. I hope you enjoy this recipe - if you cannot find wild ramps and chives, you can use a leek and domestic chives, but the flavors will be different.

Wild Ramp, Chive, an Potato Soup with Bacon

  • 1/4 lb bacon chopped, fried and drained (go ahead and make the full pound - you know you will eat it)

  • 2 TBS bacon fat reserved from the bacon or butter

  • 1 1/2 lbs potatoes (I like Yukon Gold, but russets will also work if you peel them first.)

  • 1 cup chopped wild ramps

  • 3/4 cup wild mushrooms (Any will do - I used some hen-of-the-woods. You can also omit.)

  • 4-5 cups stock (I prefer homemade and I used a combo of turkey and chicken, feel free to use mushroom or veggie to stock to make this vegetarian)

  • 1/2 cup half & half or cream

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 2 tsp dried thyme

  • 1/2 cup wild chives (you can cut them or leave them whole

  • Salt and white pepper to taste

1. Use the bacon fat (or butter) to saute the mushrooms (if using) and ramps. Cook for about 5 minutes.

2. While the mushrooms and ramps are sauteing, dice the potatoes into 1/4 inch cubes. Peeling is optional with Yukon Golds, but I would recommend peeling with other thicker-skinned varieties.

3. Add the stock to the pot. Add the potatoes, bay leaves, and thyme. Let it come to a simmer, turn down the heat to med-low, and put on the lid. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

4. If you are using chives with the bulbs, put them in now, if you are just using the leaves, add them after the cream. Let simmer without the lid for another 5 minutes.

5. Using a potato masher or immersion blender, break up some of the potatoes to make the soup creamy. If you want a smooth soup you can also blend the whole thing, but I prefer some texture since I was serving this a a main course.

6. Remove from heat and add the half & half (and chive leaves if not using the bulbs). Stir to combine. Adjust salt and white pepper.

7. Laddle into bowls and garnish (or pile up) with bacon. Serve with crusty bread.

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