After I spent an hour doing nothing and waiting for the Dufferin Grove Park farmers’ market to open, the vendors were finally open for business. It’s so interesting for me to be experiencing May in another time and climate zone — back home in the SF Bay Area, May often feels like summer, but here it’s still spring: flowers blooming everywhere, squirrels chasing each other around the trees, radishes and fiddlehead ferns at the farmers’ market.
While I was at the market, I bought three dollars’ worth of wild leeks. That’s what the guy called them and that’s what the sign said, but ramps is how many people know them – especially foodies, now that ramp sightings are a favorite pastime, thanks to the vegetable’s elevation to trendy status by magazines like Martha Stewart Living (which is where I first read about them, in a whole article dedicated to their evanescent glories). The vendor, a big friendly dark-carrot-haired thirtyish guy in a dark t-shirt and cap, sold nothing but the wild leeks, fiddlehead ferns, a couple of jams, and maple syrup and maple sugar candy. The ramps and the ferns were the first of the season, and there was constantly a small crowd of three or four around his table, waiting for him to weigh out their choices.
“I’ll take some of the leeks,” said a wrinkled, grey-haired woman.
“I can give you a bunch like this,” he said, quickly grabbing a handful of the slender vegetables and plopping them onto his little electronic scale, talking just as rapidly the whole time, “for three dollars, or I could do a little smaller bunch for two, or a bigger one for four.”
“I’ll have a two-dollar bunch,” she replied, and he said, “No problem,” and almost before he finished saying it he’d swiped some of the ramps back onto the main pile and swept the small handful left on the scale into a clear plastic bag. “Anything else I can get for you?” he asked, deftly spinning the bag between his hands until the ends twisted.
“No thanks,” she said, and handed over a toonie, that two-dollar Canadian coin I am quickly learning to love (especially at the farmers’ market, where it’s so much easier to just exchange loonies and toonies than to deal with bills).
I was the last of the three women at his booth at that particular moment. I bought four dollars’ worth of fiddlehead ferns and three dollars’ of ramps, then asked him how to prepare the latter.
“You can serve ’em a lot of different ways,” he said, bagging some for me. “The bulbs you can use like you’d use a green onion. The tops you can sauté; they taste a little like a spicy spinach. It’s okay to eat them raw, too.” He twisted off a jagged piece of one of the long, thin green tops and handed it to me. I took an infinitesimal nibble and it spread across my mouth as a sharp, springtime flavor partway between Chinese [garlic] chives and green garlic.
“Oh!” I said, surprised by the strength of flavor in that tiny morsel of leaf. “Mmm.” I stuck the rest of the piece in my mouth and chewed.
“They make a really good pesto,” he said. “Just grate in some cheese, some good olive oil, stir it into pasta.”
“I can imagine,” I said, thinking of the garlic-laden pestos Erik and I always make. “The flavor is great!”
“Yeah,” he smiled, pleased. “They’re also really good with eggs. Anywhere you use eggs, like an omelet or a quiche, you can chop ’em up and add ’em in.”
He handed me the bagged ramps, the bagged ferns, and a little slip of paper with printed instructions on how to cook the ferns so the tannins wouldn’t give us “indigestion” (Wikipedia suggested “food poisoning” might be a better term), and a loonie and a toonie in change for my ten. “Enjoy!”