the code of conduct for hunting wild leeks

May 5, 2013
wild leek crostata

Last week a friend shared her wild leek patch with me. I had to agree to the code of conduct concerning wild leeks: keep the location secret, pick only what you need, tread carefully so as not to damage the plants, take from the middle of the patch – thereby essentially thinning only, and in the event of somebody finding us – sit down on a log and pretend we were simply admiring the forest.  

I drove an hour to get to my friend’s house and then she drove us the rest of the way, another half hour. Then when it was all over – I did the trip in reverse. The whole time I was fighting a migraine.

Our dogs got into a bog. My dog, Lola, also known as Swamp-Girl because of her propensity for lurking about in filthy, wet muddy spots of any kind (she’s white with long, shaggy hair) was thick with slime. White dogs, it seems, have a special affinity with mud. My friend lost her dog’s handsome leash. The sun was blazing hot. We were on our hands and knees on the forest floor carefully rummaging in the dirt, uprooting wild leeks, sweat dripping from our bodies. My friend lost her glasses and we had to abandon the leeks to hunt through dirt and sticks and plants. We eventually found the glasses sitting neatly on a rock. Once we thought we heard someone coming and bolted to a nearby log to act out our innocent sitting admiring the forest scenario.  That’s when the leash went missing. We never did find it.

This is what you do to get your hands on wild leeks, also known as ramps, or more officially, as Allium tricoccum. 

The season for wild leeks is short. The locations are sacred. And because of their increasing popularity and the particular circumstances they require to grow in – they are becoming a threatened species. In several places, including Quebec and parts of the USA, wild leeks are protected. The law in Quebec states that persons may harvest Allium tricoccum “for the purposes of personal consumption in an annual quantity not exceeding 200 grams of any of its parts or a maximum of 50 bulbs or 50 plants, provided those activities do not take place in a National Park.”  Don’t get caught in Quebec with more than 200 grams on you!

Tonight I cooked the wild leeks for dinner. I considered making pizza but in the end decided on making a wild leek crostata. I searched the Google-able universe – no such thing. Perfect, I thought, I’ll invent one. It was beautiful but very rich. If you make this – serve small slices, along with a green salad, and perhaps some pickled beets or sliced tomatoes or something  simple as a side. I served the crostata for dinner but I think it would make an incredible appetizer, cut in very thin wedges.

I have a few wild leeks leftover and I’m going to make them into pesto and freeze that for future use. For now – here’s my Wild Leek Crostata. If you don’t have wild leeks, substitute 1/2 cup chopped green onions and one clove of garlic minced. But try to get your hands on wild leeks if you possibly can….

wild leeks

Wild Leek Crostata

pastry for two – 9 inch pie crusts
24 wild leeks, washed and dried
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup ricotta
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 large egg
salt and pepper

Lightly grease a large baking sheet.

Roll the pastry into two circles approximately 10 or so inches in diameter. (Just guess here – I did not measure.)

Cut the ends of the ramps and discard. Separate the ramp greens from the white bulbs. Chops the bulbs finely. Chop the greens coarsely. In the olive oil, sauté the chopped bulbs until they soften and begin to brown. Add the greens and cook a minute or so longer – they will wilt quickly. You want them just slightly wilted.

Mix together the egg, ricotta, cheddar and parmesan. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add the wilted ramps. Stir gently.

Spread half of the filling onto each pastry circle, leaving an inch or so at the edge. Fold the pastry over to form an inch overlap.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the pastry is browned and the filling is golden and slightly puffed. 028

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23 Comments

  • Reply Maria Dernikos May 6, 2013 at 5:47 am

    We do the ‘pretend’ looking for the dogs ball when out collecting sloes. Last year they were so scarce it was a feat to find any. In the end I couldn’t cope with the tension and gave up. Although your foraging was fruitful, they gathering read as a very comical scene. The dogs adding to the story. Recipe looks as if it was all worth it though.

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen May 6, 2013 at 8:00 am

      I think the tension is an integral part of the sport of foraging! And I love your guise of searching for the dog’s ball. Clever!
      I had to look up sloes. I think we had such a thing growing along the abandoned railway track / walking trail across from our house in Melbourne. They made the most fantastic jam.

  • Reply apuginthekitchen May 6, 2013 at 8:41 am

    I think I have wild leeks in my backyard, I didn’t know what they were until I saw your photo. Now I am excited. Now to make that delicious crostata!

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen May 6, 2013 at 9:08 am

      Apparently wild leeks are quite common in NY State. You will be able to tell by the smell – the leaves smell mildly garlicky. And there is a great reference on Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allium_tricoccum
      I hope they are wild leeks – lucky you!! Much better to avoid the hunt and the drive and the dogs in the bog!

      • Reply apuginthekitchen May 6, 2013 at 9:10 am

        they look just like your photo, smell mildly oniony I hope they are too. I would like to avoid the bog and the pugs would not be amused if I took them there.

        • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen May 6, 2013 at 9:12 am

          WOW – they must be wild leeks. Lucky lucky you.
          The pugs sound much more sensible than my dog – she seeks the bog out always and is terribly amused with any kind of muck and slime.

          • apuginthekitchen May 6, 2013 at 9:14 am

            It’s so funny things just pop up in my backyard that I have never planted, the leeks (I hope) jalapeno peppers, tomatoes. Every year I get surprises.

          • A Taste of Wintergreen May 6, 2013 at 4:48 pm

            how delightful! A little magic in your garden…

  • Reply Eliza B May 6, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Oh that looks beautiful! I fear I’ve already missed wild leek season, but I’m fine making a leek and garlic crostata until next year when I can pounce on ramp season.

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen May 6, 2013 at 4:51 pm

      Yes Eliza – the season for ramps is so short. But I do hear they are more available in the US at farmer’s markets and even in some grocery stores. You probably won’t have to drive 100 miles and lose a dog in the bog and various other things like we did! And if you do make it – I’d probably double the filling ingredients. It was lovely but I’d like it with a whole lot more filling next time….

  • Reply jess and kate May 6, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Awesome! One must obey the code, eh! Thanks for sharing and also for educating on how “rare” and special, or I like how you put it–Sacred–the Wild Leeks are! It is crucial for us whom want to “tread lightly” to know what species are threatened and the proper guidelines for ethically wild crafting.
    The food looked incredibly tasty–made me hungry! Have fun with your pesto–what a great way to continue to enjoy your wild ramps after the season is over! Happy Spring Foraging!

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen May 6, 2013 at 4:55 pm

      What a lovely comment – thank you. I had cold leftovers today with a huge big salad. Such a treat. And you’ve reminded me to go combing through your lovely blog…. Happy spring foraging to you too. I love foraging!

  • Reply johnnysenough hepburn May 6, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Maybe I’ve mentioned before but there’s a large patch of wild garlic, as we call them, on my parents farm just around the bend after the bridge that crosses over the babbling brook. As a kid I never knew what they were. Wish I had access to them now. Fabulous post! Love the idea of your dogs.

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen May 6, 2013 at 5:33 pm

      Oh Johnny – I love that description – on your parents farm – just around the bend – after the bridge that crosses over the babbling brook. I have a picture in my mind of the farm and it looks just like where I once lived in Yorkshire!
      Isn’t it funny all the things we had access to once upon a time – watercress, crab apples, wild garlic, wild plums, blackberries – that we’ll now traverse the earth for – or pay the earth for!!
      My dog by the way – is a the sweetest and most adorable nuisance ever.

  • Reply Sam May 7, 2013 at 7:10 am

    Oh yum yum yum. Anything with ricotta has my vote

  • Reply dollyandoatmeal May 7, 2013 at 10:14 am

    lovely recipe! i’m totally into wild leeks this spring!

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen May 7, 2013 at 9:35 pm

      Aren’t they fabulous? So much pleasure in foraging! The first crop of spring too. Next – rhubarb…

  • Reply gotasté May 7, 2013 at 10:45 am

    I would really love to join you in hunting wild leeks Lindy. And I love the pizza recipe. I still remember how you describe the flavor to me. Yummy!

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen May 7, 2013 at 9:30 pm

      Yes Danny – come to Canada and we’ll hunt wild leeks! North American wild leeks are much milder than their European cousins. When they cook – they practically melt. There’s something so lovely about foraging… and I think you would love the forest in spring.

      • Reply gotasté May 8, 2013 at 8:56 am

        I love the forest (over here, it is compulsory for guys to join the army at the age of 18 for two years) and I bet Canadian forest in spring must be gorgeous!

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  • Reply Karen May 12, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Your crostada sounds wonderful. I have searched all over our property but I have never found wild leeks.

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