Extend your ramp season after the summer die-back by harvesting the seeds to make tasty capers.
Ramp season is a favorite period in my foraging calendar. Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are one of the great springtime wild edibles and they usually show up in such profusion that it’s impossible to not get excited each time you step into a woodlot that’s so full of ramps it looks like it was planted that way on purpose.
But the bounty doesn’t last forever, and sooner than wished for, those ramps will bolt, as their leaves begin turning brown and the plants send up flowered stalks that will become seed clusters. It’s these seed clusters that we’re after, to make a jar or two of pickled ramp seed capers.
After the flowers end their reign and the seeds form they are soft and green, tiny three-lobed, heart-shaped pods at the end of a thin, half-inch long stem. Soon the the little pods will dry and the round BB-shaped seeds inside will in fact blacken and become as hard as BBs. The pod skin will burst and the seeds will be exposed.
We want the seed pods before they harden, while they are still green and soft enough to be edible, crunchy and a little juicy. Eat a few and judge for yourself.
It’s easy enough to collect the seeds because, one, they’re everywhere and appear in the same profusion that the ramps themselves do, and two, they’re as easy to harvest from the flower/seed stalks as grabbing the entire cluster between your fingers and stripping them from the stalk.
Once you collect enough to fill as many jars as you want to pickle, things get a little tedious for an hour or two, as you’ll snip the little stems off of the seed pods. Turn the radio on or get a friend to pass the time with, get a scissors and a couple of bowls, and start snipping. Once the seed pods and stems have been separated the rest is easy.
Here’s the basic recipe I use for ramp seed capers:
- red wine vinegar
- water, equal in volume to the vinegar
- salt, ⅓-½ cup for every 2 cups vinegar
- sugar, ½-⅔ cup for every 2 cups vinegar
- bay leaves, 1 per jar
I’m a little iffy on the amounts of salt and sugar. Adjust to your preference for salty or sweet.
1) Rinse the seeds in a few changes of cold water, picking out any chaff, bugs or other undesirable elements.
2) Bring the pickling brine ingredients to a boil and simmer for a few minutes.
3) Fill your jars with the seeds and pour the hot brine over them. Keep a bay leaf in each jar. Seal, date and place in the refrigerator.
The capers will last as long as any refrigerator pickle recipe. The standard recommendation seems to be around six months, but I’ve had held them in the refrigerator for well over a year and they’re still fine. Use in salads, eggs dishes, bruschetta toppings, and so on…anywhere you would normally use capers.