Yesterday we went on our annual pilgrimage to “Leek Valley”. Leek Valley (named by my family) is a small moist valley in the middle of our maple/beech forest near Pierrepont. Wild leeks, otherwise known as ramps in the south, cover the valley in enormous numbers. Wild leeks are a pungent scallion like wild plant with a garlic/onion flavor and an earthy aroma. As we head through the forest, my children spot them easily. They are the only green we see this time of year like a soft green blanket lying in what appears to be a still sleeping wood. One of the earliest wild foods, their green leaves are a welcome sight to winter weary eyes.
I will make several trips to this spot over the next month. I am happy for the walk and happy to switch from snow boots to mud boots. I am always prepared with a spade or trowel and a pail (or cloth or plastic bag) for carrying. Wild leeks have tenacious roots, so be sure to dig deep otherwise you might break off the green tops and leave the white bulb underneath. I only take what I need and don't like them to sit longer than 2-3 days in the refrigerator.
They are used in everything from salad, stir-fry and soups to tacos and casseroles. Wild leeks are high in vitamins A and C, lutein and calcium. While some people only use the bulb, I encourage you to use the greens also. There is no reason to discard them, just chop them up and add along with the bulbs.
I put wild leeks right up there on my list of quintessential north country foods. If you follow my blogs you will know I am fascinated by what was once considered “farm food” (primarily for poorer families) is now considered gourmet. Wild leeks can go for as much as $15-20/lb in some parts of the country. You will find them in the most upscale restaurants. If you are looking to buy them locally, try Nature's Storehouse in Canton or The Potsdam Food Co-op. If you have a friend with land, ask to go poke around and find some. There are numerous photos online to help guide your way, but really....look for the green plants (and remember, the only other possible green plant out there are small wildflowers (spring beauties) and even they don't have much green). Please do not take them from trails in nature centers. This is considered unethical.
I love this crescendo of fresh local foods in our life. Maple syrup and wild leeks start us off. Rhubarb is soon to follow and fiddle heads are surely popping out of the earth as I write. In another month or two, we'll have many options. One of my deepest wishes for the local food movement is that eating local goes back to being “the norm”. I don't want it only for those who can afford it or for a select progressive minded group. I want it to be something we all just do. With that said, incorporate it into your life. Share meals with families and friends and most of all....with your children. It is with them we can get back to “the norm” of eating locally grown food.