Even without much encouragement from the sun, the chives are out there reaching for the sky, their bright green straws searching for a warm ray or two. Me too. Though I am happy to again be able to add the delicate tang of this smallest of the onion family to all manner of dishes on our table.
Not living near farms until recently, my introduction to chives was a spoonful of snippets on top of a glorious dab of sour cream melting into a flaky baked potato. It was years before I was sufficiently rash to just start throwing scoops of chives into salads, soups, eggs of any description, poultry, seafood and so on. Show me a food that can’t benefit from just such a taste booster. Speaking of pick-me-ups, a large handful of chives went into last week’s soufflé with delicious results. (Soufflés have an undeserved bad rep as being difficult. Actually, they are much easier if you simply accept it as chemistry.)
Humans and four-footed critters have been eating wild chives for 5,000 years wherever they are native, which includes Europe, Asia and North America. Europeans are known to have been cultivating them during the 5th C BC. Somewhere along in the 1800s, a few Dutch farmers fed their cows chives to create different tastes in the milk they produced. Wouldn’t you have thought they’d have tried apples or almonds first? One Marcus Valerius Martialis, a Roman poet famous for his Epigrams, wrote:
“He who bears chives on his breathe,
Is safe from being kissed to death.”
Leaving us to wonder whether he was such a strikingly handsome fellow or if perhaps he had an overly enthusiastic mother and aunts.
There are many natural combinations in the world of food, basil and tomatoes justly being one of the most famous. Another one is eggs and chives. We have offered previous recipes including chives that are available on the website: Sautéed Lion’s Mane Mushrooms, Linguine with Snow Peas and Chives in a Creamy Lemon Sauce, Fresh Crabmeat and Celeriac Salad with Chive Dressing and Creamy Parsnip and Leek Soup with Chives and Bacon. Today’s recipe is a toast to satisfying simplicity, a Chive Omelet, which just happens to be my favorite meal ever.
There are very few things in the world that could get me on my knees digging in the mud and rain. The annual sprouting of ramps is one of them. I thought of waiting to see if the rain would go away and not come again tomorrow and the day after. Recent experience, however, hasn’t provided much hope in that direction. On the contrary, we may need a course in Ark building soon. Our pond has completely overflowed its banks, the grass carp are now mowing the lower part of what used to be lawn, huge boulders are totally submerged and the picnic table is about to float away off into the woods. So I harvested ramps on the highest ground available.
Ramps are their own reward. Thought to be a cross between wild leeks and mild garlic, they are cherished for their unique contribution to numerous dishes. Leaf, stem and bulb are all edible. They may be justly nominated for divinity. Native and exclusive to North America, ramps can be found as far west as Minnesota and as far south as Tennessee in deciduous woodlands. Each year they send up bright green blades to pierce the last year’s fallen leaves before this year’s have unfurled. Preferring their six- to eight-week annual wild fling to the security of cultivation, they have resisted most attempts to be tamed.
The foothills of the Appalachia mountains are clotted with springtime festivals in honor of ramps, fondly known as “Little Stinkers”. Richwood, West Virginia has declared itself to be the ramp capital of the world. A mischievous erstwhile editor of the Richwood News Leader once mixed his ink with ramp juice. He printed his newspaper with the treated ink and sent it through the mail system to his subscribers. This prompted the Postmaster General to extract a promise from him to constrain himself in all future publications.
Locations of prosperous ramp patches have become well kept secrets. Ramps are fast becoming an endangered species as they are a very slow growing plant taking up to seven years to mature. Which hasn’t stopped the unscrupulous from mass harvesting on state preserves for commercial purposes. Ramps are sold in New York and San Francisco for as much as $25 a pound. Once you find a good-sized patch, it is recommended to not take more than 10 to 15% of it in any one year.
In previous years we have offered several recipes for ramps, including: Ramp Soup, Ramp Frittata, Farrotto with Ramps, Fiddlehead Ferns and Asparagus and Shrimp and Ramps. Check out the website for those and many other recipes using this delicate seasonal extravagance. The advent of the zoodle, noodles made from spiralizing zucchini, are a nice way to keep the carb and calorie count under control. With that in mind, today we’re offering a dish called Gingered Zoodles with Ramps, Mushrooms and Tomatoes. It tastes like decadence though it is entirely guilt free and healthy.
We were sufficiently fortunate to have escaped a harsh winter without leaving town. Which makes having to wait for spring not one jot more amenable. Other than a mild yellowing of forsythia and an occasional daffodil, our impatience seems to be the only thing flowering so far. Oh, there must be millions of the blade-like leaves of daffodil, iris and tulip inching their way skyward. Walls of forsythia canes are yellowing in preparation. Dozens of fat, red bud peony noses poke themselves out of the ground. Promises. Promises.
Then suddenly our world is transformed and everywhere you look there are millions of shades of green waving cheerful blossoms. Fresh perennial herbs like mint appear overnight to shake up bored taste buds. A single whiff of mint creates fantasies of mint juleps or iced tea on lazy hot afternoons while seated, preferably, on a porch swing. Mint is synonymous with refreshing. There are hundreds of flavorful varieties though all can claim common ancestry. Biologists would have you believe that it originated in Turkey and the Balkan Peninsula and naturalized themselves throughout Europe and Asia. Mythologists have another tale to tell. Hades, master of the underworld, kidnapped and wed the unwilling Persephone leaving her imprisoned in his domain for six months of every year. Hades, though, had a roving eye. Soon he was pursuing a river nymph called Menthe. Being caught, flattered, young and unwise, Menthe was heard to utter various disparaging remarks about Persephone, who promptly turned her into the herb mint.
Closer to home, mint has been a culinary and medicinal staple for centuries. Uncontained, it can readily become an unwanted weed. It was used to flavor teeth cleaning compounds as early as the 14th C. In the 16th C the scent of mint was touted for its ability to “rejoice the hearts of men” and strewn around the castle dining room floor. In our own times, a mid-state New York dairy kicked off an annual regional tradition by producing Mint Milk, which I would drink just because it is so beautiful.
Mint teas were once popular just because the authorities had neglected to tax them. Now they are popular simply because they are invigorating. Liquors are not as prevalent as they once were, but you can turn a plain scoop of vanilla ice cream into a beautiful, Queen-worthy dessert by drizzling Crème de Menthe over it. On the website you will find many recipes for mint, including Shrimp with Mint, Bacon and Chiles, Pea Soup with Mint and Sugar Snap Peas and Black Quinoa with Feta and Mint. Today we’re offering the classic combination of mint and chocolate in our flourless Chocolate Peppermint Flourless Torte.