A Prize-Winning Pie, Oh My!

I still can’t believe I won the 13th Annual Retro Pie Contest in Asheville! There were 78 pies entered and eight crust-only entries from serious bakers. From Slow Foodies to professional bakers, cookbook authors to enthusiastic junior bakers, there was tons of talent.  Lots of pie categories add to the fun: historic, locally sourced, heirloom recipe, children’s, men’s, first pie, fruit, meat, custard, chocolate, tarts, small pies, gluten-free, most creative, prettiest, best in show and a few more I can’t remember.  There are non-pie categories too like best retro outfit, best retro apron and so on. My favorite is at the end: thought-you-should-have-won-but-didn’t category. You can nominate yourself or someone else for this and it gets pretty funny. If you taste all 78 pies you get a prize too. And maybe a tummy ache!

IMG_2619The mood was festive with a cloudless Carolina blue sky, 80 degree temperatures, tents in a lovely garden setting and toddlers in retro aprons. There was a table full of prizes to admire and clothes lines hung with vintage aprons. In the freezer were a couple of pounds of Benton’s Bacon, the very special Smokey Mountain bacon from Tennessee that is always back-ordered, as top prizes. There were kegs of local beer, bottles of wine and the gallons of cold water. Tasting 78 pies is very thirsty business.

IMG_2625I entered the small pie category with my blueberry hand pies, and the meat category with a Tourtiere Quebecois, a highly spiced, mostly pork pie traditionally served on Christmas Eve in Quebec.  My crusts came out really flaky so I was feeling pretty good and entered the crust only category too.

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My crust only entry.

My crust only entry.

How It Worked

Bakers registered, got numbers (the judging is blind) and a serving spoon and set up their entries at the table for their category. Talented hubby Paul painted adorable signs to go with my entries. He has a hollow leg, loves pie and really gets into the spirit. He tastes soooo many pies!  More than 100 attendees signed up to judge one or more categories. You must taste all the pies in a category to vote. Everyone votes for Best in Show, costumes, prettiest pie and most creative pie. The crust only contest is the most serious. The judges are real pie experts.

Once the ballots were in we took our spoons and little plates and tasted as many pies as we could stand. A few brave folks did taste all of them! I could manage only about three dozen bites. I have to admit , the last few were pushing it. Many revelers were in pie comas by the end. While the ballots were being counted, a bunch of us entertained the pie revelers with bluegrass and old-time music. Not an easy feat after all that tasting.

My tasting plate after more than 30 bites. Yes, there is a pea and a blueberry. The variety was endless.

My tasting plate after more than 30 bites. Jackson Pollock watch out!

Amazing Entries

Here are just a few of the incredible entries. Don’t you want to run to the kitchen and make a pie right now?  And eat it too of course.

The competition was tough in the small pie category!

The competition was tough in the small pie category!

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Fruit entries.

Fruit entries.

Vegetarian Everything in The Garden Pie.

Vegetarian Everything in The Garden Pie.

Yum!

Yum!

And the Winners Are…

Finally the winners were announced. Everyone pulled up chairs or stretched out on the grass to digest all that pie and hear the results. Winner of the small pie category was me! I selected a very nice vintage apron as my prize. Near the end of all the categories was the crust only announcement. I tied with a very seasoned baker for my savory flavored crust and came away with a bag of special Carolina Ground pastry flour. Carolina Ground is locally grown and milled wheat flour that bakes up like a dream. Excited to have won two cool prizes, I felt humbled in the company of so many great bakers!

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Making the blueberry jelly that filled the hand pies.

Making the blueberry pepper jelly that filled the hand pies.

 

Cookbook author Ashley English won the tart category with her Peach plum tart with Mint Pesto. Delicious and beautiful.

Cookbook author Ashley English won the tart category with her Peach plum tart with Mint Pesto. Delicious and beautiful.

 

Prize winning berry margerita pie.

Prize winning berry margerita pie.

 

Annie Erbsen's gorgeous gluten-free lemon pie. She has got the gluten-free crust thing down! And she won the prize for best retro outfit too.

Annie Erbsen’s gorgeous gluten-free lemon pie. She has got the gluten-free crust thing down! Annie won the prize for best retro outfit too.

 

Historic winner, shrimp heads and all!

Historic winner, shrimp heads and all!

At last it was time for Best in Show. The prizes were a cookbook, A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies by Ashley English (autographed because Ashley, her husband and her adorable toddler were there!), and a pound of that excellent Benton’s Bacon. My jaw nearly hit the floor when I won for the Quebecois meat pie! It’s really fun to win when you don’t expect to at all!

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One of my Best in Show Tourtiere practice pies.

The best in Show Ballot Box.

The best in Show Ballot Box.

Paul was as excited as I and we were still basking in the pie glow the next day. I ordered a new pie dish to celebrate. We had the last hand pies for breakfast and the last of the meat pie (it was my practice pie) for dinner with home-grown lettuce and Buttermilk Chive Dressing. Like a lot of stews and meat dishes, the flavor of the meat pie gets better overnight.

Paul and Mom having a big time!

Paul and Mom having a big time!

 

The wonderful hosts addressing the pie crowd.

The wonderful hosts addressing the pie crowd.

Thanks to Barbara Swell, contest founder, for getting me to bake that first pie a couple of years ago, and to my family who tasted all my practice pies this year when I got serious!  This year I will make pie often. I’m inspired to bake more and now have my eye on a home-made English Muffin recipe that was on one of my favorite blogs, Food52, last week.  If I can conquer pie crust, I can take on twice cooked yeast breads, right?

I’ll post the meat pie and hand pie recipes later this week.

In the meantime, here are pie crust tips from my recollections of watching my grandmother bake and from research that helped me become a pie maker.

Pie Crust Tips

  • Keep the pie dough cold. Chill the flour, butter and even the entire pie before baking. Handle the dough as little as possible since your hands are warm. Anytime it starts to feel soft, put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  • Use a pastry cutter with blades, not wires. The blades cut through the coldest butter. In lieu of a cutter, use two knives.  If crumbling the dough with your fingers, put it back in the fridge to chill half way through.
  • Most crust recipes call for pea-sized crumbles. Be sure to leave some larger and make some smaller for nicer texture.
  • Pound your dough disk with the rolling-pin 20-30 times before starting to roll. This makes the rolling time shorter and doesn’t melt the butter in the crust. Plus, it’s fun! Click here for a demo. 
  • After trimming the crusts, turn the dough under itself for a nice, high edge.
  • A silicon rolling mat and non-stick rolling-pin are invaluable, but rolling with a pin on waxed-paper or a stone (stone keeps the crust cold) counter top works too.
  • Keep your rolling-pin and rolling surface well floured. This seems basic but it’s essential.
  • In case I haven’t said it enough, keep the dough and rolled crusts cold!
  • HAVE FUN. If it’s not working, cover the dough or rolled crust with plastic wrap, put it in the fridge and take a break. It will keep.

I hope you’re inspired to bake a pie, bring friends together to eat it and even host a pie cook-off of your own. You’ll love it!

The Pie Contest Looms

These wonderful friends of mine, Barb and Wayne, are pie people.  Barb is a master pie maker, teaches pie classes, has written a pie cookbook and can bake a perfect pie in a wood stove. She believes that pies bring people together. I think she’s right! Their adult daughters dress in retro housewife dresses and make fabulous pies. Their friends make pies. Wayne loves pies, eats lots of pies and helps stage their giant pie contest each year. He also has his musician friends (Paul and I are in this category) play old-time and bluegrass music for the pie crowd while the ballots are being tabulated. This takes a while since there are multiple categories, about 100 entries and lots of judges (every guest tastes and judges).

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I had never been a pie maker. Cobbler, cake, cookies, icebox pies and rustic tarts yes, but not real baked pies with scratch crusts. When I got the urge to do something with seasonal fruit or at holidays, I purchased a convenient pie crust from the dairy section that come ready to unroll. I remember watching my grandmother make pies and even cute little hand pies for us kids too. I like the hand pies best because there is a higher ratio of flaky crust to filling.  Sometimes too much fruit filling can overwhelm me! We called the little pies tarts. Other people must have too because along came these store bought hand pies with a strange chemical taste in the background, called Pop Tarts! As I child I was fascinated by them but never related them to grandma’s tarts. Of course Pop Tarts and ready made crust are never even mentioned by the serious pie people, so let’s pretend I never brought it up.

images-2With some nudging from Barb, I entered the contest. It’s a wacky, friendly kind of contest with super bakers and novices competing. Two years ago, I took a whack at pie crust the morning of the party. I think it got too warm. It had to be pressed into a tart pan and I can’t remember what I filled it with. It was good, but not a pie. In hindsight, I should never have used that recipe from Cooks Illustrated. It had all these extra ingredients, like vodka, and pages of directions that took the fun out of it and made me feel distressed. Last year, I enjoyed making a regular old butter pie crust with a lemon sponge filling that was good but not great and not quite beautiful either.

This year, for some reason, I’m really into it.  I’ve decided to master, pie crusts, pizza dough and several other types of baked goods that I have avoided in the past. I think I had pastry and yeast dough phobias. I’m good at eating them, but afraid to make them! The truth is that once you make these things 8 or 10 times, the walls come down and it starts to feel natural. I’m getting to that point with pie crust. Baking is part of my heritage and it’s time I put my pie on the table!

imagesAt the pies contest/party there are always way more sweet than savory pies. My husband goes nuts over the savory ones so he asked that I make one this year.  Savory pies are especially good when you’ve already tasted 50 sweet pies and can’t face any more sugar!  I tested a few last month and settled on one. I can’t reveal what it is yet, but it’s delish! I also started thinking about my grandma’s little hand pie tarts and how much I liked those.  Then came a post from one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, on hand pies and I had to give them a try. I’m using the Smitten Kitchen recipe as a base and improvising from there. Aren’t I brave and creative to have two entries?  I served the savory pie last week and my husband and parents couldn’t stop eating. The doughs and fillings are ready  so that I can do a dry run on both entries tomorrow. We’ll have the results of my test drive for supper.

images-1I just wish I’d had Barb’s pie cookbook on my shelf a long time ago. Then I’d be a real pie queen by now instead of just a novice pie princess! Her book is The Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy by Barbara Swell. The recipes really work and the tips are great! You’ll find it at Amazon in case you want to jump on the pie bandwagon.

The contest is Saturday afternoon and I’ll have dough for both kinds of crusts in fridge before my head hits the pillow Friday night.  On Saturday morning I will remove those smooth discs of buttery dough from the refrigerator and I will roll, fill and bake with aplomb.  Stay tuned for all the details and the recipes next week.  Wish me luck!1940s My-T-Fine Pudding & Pie Mix Filling vintage advertisement illustration

 

 

Why Chickens?

Every once in a while someone asks me, “Why chickens?”.  The quick answer is why not, but of course there is more.  Eighteen months ago, I got very sick and nearly died. After I got better, I realized just how unpredictable life is and decided to start doing things I wanted to do instead of waiting.  Like going to Italy, playing more music, writing a blog, and raising chickens to name just a few.

I heard a woman on NPR talking about chickens, how much fun they are and how easy it is to raise them and have your very own eggs.  I’d always liked chickens and had bought local eggs for years, so the story caught my attention. The woman was Jenna Woginrich and that’s where my chicken saga begins.

Ruby loves drinking from the bird bath.
Ruby loves drinking from the bird bath.

My birthday was coming up in June of 2012. My darling husband, Paul, asked what I wanted and I said a coop and chickens.  He even put the coop from a kit together for me. Overall it’s been a great experience. It’s cost more than I expected, but no more than any other really good, long-term hobby that requires an investment.  But you do have to get used to tragedy.  The avian vet (part of that unexpected cost) says that chicken are synonymous with tragedy and she’s right.  There is almost no way to protect your flock completely from predators and disease. It’s just part of the deal.  I started with four pullets, hand-raised five chicks this spring, bought assorted additional pullets last year and this. In one year I’ve lost six to tragedy, given four away to start my sister’s flock and ended up with eight.  And I love it.  I’m sad when I lose one but I steel myself and move on. Losing a chicken is not as hard as losing a house pet. I’ve talked to other people who have chickens and they all agree. You have prepare yourself and keep going.

Mattie and Dovey (rear) patrolling the garden.

Mattie and Dovey (rear) patrolling the garden.

Another trial is that the chickens dig up our gardens. It’s natural for them to scratch and dig for bugs and worms. They do so daily and they know no boundaries. They can throw mulch in the air like high-powered machines! It’s fun to watch the antics, but not to sweep the front walk for the hundredth time.  We’re seeing less mulch throwing this year, thank goodness. They also uproot very small plants so it’s hard to starts plants outdoors without a fenced garden. I learned this after they dug up one small stock plant 10 days in a row. I replanted it 10 times, but alas, it died. They will propel themselves into the air until they have swiped every blueberry from every bush. These are the times that try a woman’s soul! Solution? Waist-high raised beds for lettuces and herbs, buying bigger plants and using bird netting to drape the blueberries. Problem solved (Mostly).

Ruby and Mattie share a pear.

Ruby and Mattie share a pear.

I’ve had three of the girls, Ruby, Baby and Mattie, for almost a year now. Ruby survived a bout with coccidiosis, an evil parasite. I kept her isolated in a plastic tub/hospital room with food, water and gave her medicine through an eye dropper. The tub was in the sun in winter. She took full advantage of the spa treatment and recovered beautifully. Baby has survived a year of sleeping in a tree, exposed to predators and the elements. She’s a Sumatra and doesn’t like coop confinement unless she’s got chicks. No tragedy for her yet, but one of her offspring disappeared from my sister’s week after only one week there. That was surely a predator tragedy. Mattie survived having ALL her tail feathers removed by a neighbor’s dog. Do you know how close that is to being eaten alive?  She missed a day of laying, but was back to work in 48 hours. The feathers grew back. These girls are tough!

The girls play queen of the mountain, running each other on and off just for fun.

Lil’ Mattie and Buffy on a garden boulder.

There are endless positives.  First, the eggs.  Our chickens are free-range and eat lots of insects, worms, grass and clover in addition to the food we supply.  Because of this, their eggs are better for us, containing more vitamins A, D and E, beta carotene and omega-3 and much less cholesterol and saturated fat than cage-raised eggs.  The beta carotene makes the yolks a beautifully bright yellow-orange color.

What about the blood pressure effect? Paul and I both think there is something soothing about chickens. We rock on the front porch, listen to them coo and cluck in the garden and feel our stress float away. Sometimes they come up on the porch to visit, or hop up on the garden boulders to talk to us. They follow the lawn mower nabbing bugs that pop up in its wake and sun bathe while lying on their sides with their wings spread. They make us laugh when they jump two feet in the air to grab flying insects and eat clover with a family of rabbits every afternoon. What could be nicer than having eight clucking chickens at your heels while you weed or cut flowers? As a bonus, they keep the area clear of ticks!

Ruby and Mattie check out the strawberry patch.

Ruby and Mattie check out the strawberry patch.

We marvel at their personalities. Ruby and Mattie are best friends and do everything together. They only separate when one heads to the coop to lay. They aren’t afraid of people and will gladly eat out of your hand. Raisins and leftover cat food are Ruby’s favorite treat, while Mattie prefers dried mealworms. Baby is a loner but hangs out with her daughter Opal when she wants company. They sleep in a tree together. Baby lays her eggs in various places; the coop, the wood edge, the potting bench and the wheel barrow. After finding eggs on top of the potting bench under our second story screened porch, I put a cardboard box there as a nest for her. She used it for a month and then moved on. I’ve yet to find where she’s laying now, but will keep looking. If I’m outside after she lays, I will hear her triumphant calls and may discover her secret.

Baby's nestbox on the potting bench

Baby’s nest box on the potting bench

 

Mattie laying in the wine box

Baby laying in the wine box.

One perfect eggin the winebox.

One perfect egg in the wine box.

Lil’ Mattie and Buffy are almost four months old. They are buddies and enjoy eating out of hand. They turn their noses up at the girls who arrived a month after them and have recently decided that they love, love, love bananas. That leaves Dovey and Number Eight. They are americaunas and run as a pair.  We thought we heard Dovey practicing a crow the other morning, but we haven’t seen any rooster-like behavior so aren’t convinced yet.  Number Eight has developed a limp this week. She’s spending more time resting but runs as fast as the others when she needs to. We hope she’ll get better and start laying lovely green or blue eggs soon. We can’t see anything wrong with her leg but there may be a trip to the vet in her future. Dovey and Eight are a little skittish but have eaten from my hand a couple of times. They are fruit-lovers too and always want a fair share of the bananas and raisins. Right now they are at the bottom of the pecking order, but everything will change if Dovey is a rooster!

Baby and Oal in the forground and Buffy and Mattie in the birdbath.

Baby and Opal in the foreground and Buffy and Lil’ Mattie in the bird bath.

 

 

In spite of the pecking order, the girls move about the yard as a flock and are mostly nice to each other. I can see them out the kitchen window grazing with the rabbits while our cat sits close by. She watches their every move but doesn’t harm them and seems happy to observe from a few feet away.  Every day, I collect eggs and thank the girls for laying them, clean the coop, serve the girls kitchen scraps and treats and on occasion, sing to them.  I love the routine and the happy sounds that come from a contented flock. They’re good listeners.

And that’s the long answer to “Why chickens?”.

Ceci observing rabbits and chickens.

Ceci observing rabbits and chickens. In case you’re wondering. Ceci is Italian for little chickpea and pronounced Chechi.

 

 

 

Size Matters – Egg Size that is

With so many people raising their own hens or buying eggs directly from farmers, determining egg size is a handy skill. If you’re breaking a few into a frying pan for breakfast, it doesn’t really matter, but for cookies, cakes and other baked goods, it does. Eggs effect stucture, leavening, texture, taste and even shelf life. In recipes, assume eggs are large eggs unless otherwise noted.

Eggs are graded in two unrelated ways; by weight  (small, medium, large, extra-large and jumbo) and by quality (AA, A, B). Let’s start with weight. In the old days, lots of folks had egg scales on their farms or in their kitchens. Then along came supermarket eggs and lots of scales went off to Goodwill or wherever good little egg scales go when no one needs them anymore.  I use a small digital food scale in my kitchen but the old scales (like this one from Google Images) are very cool.

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Supermarket eggs are measured by the dozen. Each egg doesn’t need to be right on the money, the dozen just have to average out.  Likewise, when you’re weighing eggs at home for baking, just get as close as you can. For more egg information than you ever knew you wanted, look to the American Egg Board.  This link will get you to the section on weights and grades, egg parts, etc.  http://www.aeb.org/foodservice-professionals/egg-products.  Here are the weights (in ounces) and size grade of single eggs as set by the USDA.

Small =  1.5     Medium = 1.75     Large = 2     Extra-Large = 2.25     Jumbo = 2.5

Large, medium and small eggs laid by Ruby, Mattie and Baby respectively.

Large, medium and small eggs laid by Ruby, Mattie and Baby respectively.

My chickens lay a variety of egg sizes but I’m proud to say their eggs are mostly AA (sometimes an A slips in).  Here are highlights from what the Egg Board says about an AA egg: It spreads a moderate amount when broken, has a reasonably thick white that stands fairly high, has a clean strong shell and finally, a yolk that is firm, round and stands high. They go on to describe lesser eggs and point out that while AAs are desirable for frying and poaching, AA, A and B are fine for baking and other cooking. They don’t even mention C, D or F eggs and I’m not sure I want to know.

So there you have it. Size does matter, and now you’ll know just how many eggs to use.  Happy baking!

 

Music, Barns and Mother’s Day

And what a musical weekend it was! Saturday night brought Balsam Range, a local bluegrass band made good (top of the national charts for months), to the wonderful Madison County Arts Council in Marshall.  Balsam Range’s  exceptional singing and picking brought down the house  at this fundraiser for the Appalachian Barn Alliance (ABA).  The Alliance works to document the historically significant barns of Madison County, NC where there are 21,000 people and more than 10,000 barns!

This shot from the ABA website is one of my favorites. Raising tobacco is pretty much a thing of the past around here, but as a child, I thought tobacco hanging to dry in the barns was a beautiful sight. It would light up like it was on fire when the sun hit it.

You can see more barn photos and see more of Tim Barnwell’s work at these sites.

http://www.appalachianbarns.org/

http://www.barnwellphoto.com/onearthsfurrowedbrowgallery2.html

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The Meadows’ tobacco barn by Tim Barnwell, from the Barn Alliance’s website.

 

There is no end to the good music found in our area and Sunday night, we headed down to the big city of Asheville for a different kind of scene. After a fun family dinner in honor of Mom (she’s the best), we saw Frank Vignola and Vinnie Raniolo at the Altamont Theatre. This excellent listening room seats about 100 people so it was up close and personal as the world class jazz guitarists made our jaws drop. My hubby Paul is a perfectionist when it comes to music and he couldn’t get enough of those two.

Two nights of top-notch music. Who needs city life when we have entertainment like this? Seeing Balsam Range and then Frank and Vinnie in small venues was a real treat and it was a great family weekend with my sister and her husband as well as my parents along for the fun. In their mid-eighties, Mom and Dad would be happy checking out live music every night of the week. Remind me to act like them when I’m their age!

 

 

 

 

The Great Chicken Transfer

A couple of weeks ago, the chicks I raised were ready for life with the big chickens. There’s some timing involved with a new coop, transferring a flock and getting everyone settled.

The hand-raised chicks couldn’t move from their home in the garage to our small coop because it was already at capacity with 3 adult hens and three teenagers. We were waiting for our new, bigger coop to arrive so that two teenagers and two of the garage chicks could go with the little coop to said sister, Mary.

The new chicken palace framed by mountains in the distance and my straw bale garden. You'll hear more about that soon!

The new chicken palace framed by mountains in the distance and my straw bale garden. You’ll hear more about that soon!

While we waited those last few days for coop delivery, the garage became noisy; the gang of four was ready for new quarters. At my sister’s place, farther out in the country, they set up a pen that would attach to the small coop. The youngsters would spend days in the pen to allow them to settle in and get bigger while Mary’s cats adjusted to living with birds. The bigger the bird, the less interested the cats are.

Finally the day arrived. Our coop, complete with wheels and a pen, came rolling up the road on a flatbed truck. It was a sight to see and it is a palace! We positioned it in the yard, set up the pen and hid the old coop in the garage to avoid any confusion.

Ruby, our golden comet hen, circling the new coop.

Ruby, our golden comet hen, circling the new coop.

Using dried mealworms and lots of raisins, we lured all eleven chickens into the new coop. They inspected it thoroughly, clucking and cooing as they went in and out of the doors and  each of the six nest boxes. I put an egg in one of the boxes to let them know where to lay theirs. Chickens are very open to suggestion. The transition was smooth and just before dark, everybody lined up and walked up the ramp to their new home. I am always amazed that chickens put themselves to bed every night without being told.

photo-1The next morning they tumbled out of the coop door ready for breakfast. The three one-year olds visited the nest box with the decoy egg and one after the other, laid perfect eggs of their own. Mary’s husband, John, arrived with his trailer and we loaded the old coop and gear. That night, we plucked four young chickens from their perches while they slept and magically transported them to the old coop at its new location. They never knew what hit them.

So everybody is happy! To read more about how her flock is settling in, check out Mary’s blog at www.mentalfarmer.com.

 

 

Ramps!

Ramps are a plant that rural folk have collected in the east down to the Southern Appalachians and parts of the Midwest for many generations. I imagine after a long cold winter with few fresh vegetables, and last summer’s home-canned vegetables nearly gone, this pungent onion/garlic green would taste awfully good. As a bonus, ramps are loaded with vitamin C. The ramp season is short since they grow in the spring in deciduous forests before the leaves come out. After just a few weeks, in late April or thereabouts here in the North Carolina mountains, leaf growth blocks the sun and the ramps die back for another year.

Fresh ramp bunches

Fresh ramp bunches

So what are ramps? Members of the lily family, they are alliums along with chives, onions, garlic and leeks. They have a small white bulb, burgundy stems at ground level and wide, soft, green leaves above that are reminiscent of lily of the valley leaves. You will know you’ve got a ramp by the pungent aroma that surrounds it when you pull it up.

Ramps grow in clumps and return year after year where foragers leave a healthy supply in the ground. Now that these little jewels are trendy and served at top restaurants in NYC and elsewhere, there are some shortages in the Northeast where foragers are harvesting every last ramp to sell. Kind of like killing the goose who laid the golden eggs.

Clean ramps

Clean ramps

The ones I cooked today came from the back of a pickup on the road side. They were harvested the day before at about 5,000 feet of elevation. The fellows who dug them said they harvested as many as they could before the hard frost fell the night before. We chatted as he wrapped my bunches to keep the root dirt from falling off in the car. I asked who was buying ramps these days. He lamented that most newcomers to the mountains don’t know about ramps so some days are busy and some are slow. He seemed happy that I knew what they were. In the car, the ramp aroma was heady and wonderful.

At home, I shook off some of the dirt and carefully rinsed off the rest. By this time, the garlicky smell was filling the house. After patting the ramps dry, I snipped the roots off and cut off the bulbs. The bulbs went into the pan where my husband had just cooked a couple of thick local pork chops. I splashed in a little white wine and let it cook off. When the bulbs were tender, I added the ramp stem and leaves, salt and pepper and a few tablespoons of water and cooked until the leaves wilted and the water disappeared. The key is to stop cooking the leaves before they exude an okra-like slime. The whole cooking process took only 7-8 minutes; just long enough for the chops to rest.

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We’re big veggie eaters so in addition to the pork chops and ramps, we had a chopped salad with all kinds of things from the frig and garden tossed with sherry vinegar and olive oil. This dinner truly tasted like spring!