Hungry Tigress

Ramps Today, Three Ways.

ramps, dirt.

Late this morning, I packed a little spade, a plastic bag and my Husband and headed for the woods. Last week was so incredibly busy, that I didn't have time to go pluck a few of the hundreds of ramps I spotted the week before. It's been rainy here for the past 3 days, and the forest floor felt spongy. I felt grateful to shovel up the the dark earth carefully surrounding a few of the ramps; I felt strange to be digging in a common area, the ground foreign and surprisingly healthy - fresh with that loamy, dirty smell that before today I thought only really existed in the country.

I brought home my haul, which was on the light side because Spring is fading and I was cautious not to over dig. I'm not sure I can ever get over the prettiness of ramps, their ribbony tops and rose-legged midsections, their gleaming white bulbs that smell cleanly pungent.

ramps, no dirt

This is the first time I've ever foraged for ramps, and I didn't really go out in the woods this Spring looking for them. But there they were, laughing at me that I had just bought a little bunch at the store for $2.50, hiding in plain sight amongst the trilliums and Jack-in-the-Pulpits and other tiny, flowering Spring things that I recognized and pointed out to my family. When I saw the bounty of the forest just steps from my house, I vowed that I would experiment a little more with this wild leek and today I did.

ramp sorrel pesto

My neighbor across the street planted some things in the back of her house a few years ago in a garden plot that ended up being too shady to be prolific. The chives I could recognize, but I didn't recognize the large, neat green bunches of sorrel that seemed to be self-propagating themselves. Neither of us knew what it was (since she had forgotten what she planted), and as we nibbled it, tart and lemony, she found the original plant marker buried beside the largest clump. Having the memory I do, I recalled seeing a sorrel-ramp pesto recipe - and after I mixed up a double batch of it today, I think I can declare it my favorite pesto ever.

The recipe for Ramp and Sorrel Pesto is from Annie Wegner-LeFort, a girl who knows much more about foraging that I do... and that makes me think I should ask her to be my guide in helping do a bit more of it. I used toasted almonds and about twice (or maybe thrice) the amount of olive oil she called for because I have some amazingly delicious olive oil on hand right now. (But, I'll be discussing that at length sometime in the near future.)

pesto portions

I love when I taste something and it exceeds my expectations. Sorrel on its own, munched in the outdoors, is good and shockingly refreshing, but I couldn't imagine using an amount of it in a recipe and not having it take over. But ramps and sorrel are a perfect match, complementing each other perfectly and not really overwhelming me with their combined strength. I did just as Annie suggested and portioned it into mini-muffin tins and popped it into the freezer. It seems a shame to freeze something so delicious mere moments after it was out growing in the woods, but I maybe will get back out to pick just enough more for another fresh batch before the season ends.

I trimmed the bulbs from the rest of my stock and weighed them in at about 10 ounces. Not quite enough for much, but enough for about half of Hank Shaw's gorgeous looking saffron pickled ramps. I settled on that one after much debate. There are lots of nice looking ramp pickles out there, but I figured that if I am going to can a single jar of something, I had better make it stellar - and what does that more than saffron.

I had just enough left (I had this high-quality one from the Spice House) for a half recipe. The saffron transformed plain, white vinegar (the stuff I call "household vinegar" since I generally use it for cleaning) into something truly amazing. It's golden and sunny, and I'm going to try and save this one jar for a special occasion after it cures at least two weeks as Hank advises. If I was going to use the last of the saffron on something, this was definitely a good bet. I had trimmed down the ramp "necks" and saved the inch and a half or so sized pieces and let them simmer in the small amount of vinegar solution that was left after packing my jar and getting it into the water bath. I'll happily be munching them with something before too long!

saffron pickled ramps
I don't have many of them, but I love these "Longlife" Mason jars...

With the ramp bulbs snug in their jar, I turned the 6 oz. or so of ramp greens into this kimchi from the Hungry Tigress. All I can say is holy cow is this stuff good. You could easily polish it off before it ever got to fermenting, but most of it made it to the jar and it's sealed up on the counter for a few more hours before heading into the fridge. The only thing I could be sad about is how few ramp tops I appear to have now that they are fermenting and wilting... Now would also be a good time for me to mention that if you have ever seen a recipe on the Tigress site, make it because it will, no doubt, be great.

ramp green <span class=

Maybe I should make a verbal commitment to learn more about foraging and gleaning this year. OK, I WILL make a verbal commitment to learn more about it. Thinking of the great adventure I had with my little bounty today and what fun I've had in the past with similarly small hauls confirms that foraging is a good fit for me. I just need a few friends to start me on my way, since I am a little intrepid about just photo-identifying wild edibles. But I suppose for things like violets and now ramps, there really is no mistaking them. If you are lucky enough to spot some, forage mindfully and leave some to propagate for another day, and then... go make these things right away.

Pineapple Ice Cream, Steaming Bread.


All severe budgeting aside, I insist upon many things in my daily food life. Bulk foods are a deal, but seem to add up quickly when every cent is a factor, and fresh, organic fruits and vegetables all of a sudden feel overpriced and usually from Mexico or California. I usually feel this way in late Spring, just before planting time in my own garden, and just before the onset of near-daily farm markets scattered across our city.

Not everything is feels expensive and dim however. Fortunately, when I start seeing reliably good, whole pineapples consistently on sale, I figure they must be in season in tropical locals - and they have been so ridiculously sweet that they indeed seem worth their weight in gold. Earlier in the week, my nose told me that I had to break into the stately bromeliad in residence on my counter, when I still had some juicy triangles of yellow fruit at home in a quart jar in the fridge. I originally was thinking of cake, but in continuing attempts at curbing my sugar-tooth, I settled on ice cream sweetened only with honey (and an obligatory 2 T. of sugar just in case).

(I chopped up the scraps seen in the photo above for easier introduction to the compost pile, and then realized I should have tried my hand at pineapple vinegar. Good thing the pineapples are still on sale...)

pineapple ice cream

Here in Wisconsin, everyone - or nearly everyone - is crazy for frozen custard. I'm not saying anything bad about custard, other than that eating it feels to me more like a meal replacement than a dessert. I have always preferred ice creams to dessert, in fact I actually would rather have "ice milk", which is hard to find commercially, but crystalline and easy melting (if not initially hard as a rock) when it emerges homemade from your freezer.

pineapple ice cream, toasted topped

And so I made a pineapple ice milk, a moniker I feel this frozen dessert deserves due to its texture if not its fat content. It's definitely a recipe I will make again. Toast some unsweetened coconut in a dry, cast iron skillet - and then use the residual heat to bring some cacao nibs gently back to life for a most excellent topping.

Pineapple Ice Milk (adapted from Gourmet)
  • 12 oz. fresh pineapple, pulsed in a blender or food processor to "crushed" consistency, then drained - juice reserved
  • 6 T. honey
  • 2 T. sugar (I used raw cane sugar)
  • 2 t. cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 c. whole milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 t. vanilla
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • pinch of salt if you deem it needs it

Reserve 1 T. of the pineapple juice to mix with the cornstarch, and combine the rest of the juice, the crushed pineapple, and honey in a medium pan. Heat over medium high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar, and reducing heat after the pineapple comes to a simmer. Simmer until softened a little, about 5 minutes. Stir the 1 T. pineapple juice with the cornstarch in a little cup and then add to the simmering crushed pineapple, stirring constantly until it thickens a little, about 1 minute.

In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks with sugar to combine. In a smaller pan, heat the milk until little bubbles start to form around the edges, but the milk isn't boiling. Add a bit of milk to the egg yolks to temper them, then add them to the hot milk. Stir constantly to prevent cooking the eggs, and continue to heat over medium heat until the mixture thickens (about 170 degrees). Remove from heat.

Set a sieve over the pan with the thickened pineapple in it. Pour the thickened milk through the sieve and into the pineapple and discard any eggy bits left behind. Stir in the vanilla and heavy cream, transfer to a clean bowl or jar, and let rest in the fridge until completely chilled (at least 4 hours and up to overnight). Freeze in ice cream maker according to directions.

steamed date bread, in tin

Maybe my inner being was crying out for "cake and ice cream", or maybe I was just trying to be a good steward of the leftover cup of heavy cream that remained after making the ice milk. I originally added the cream to some milk, and made a high-fat yogurt. Well, tried to make a high-fat yogurt, since it never really set. I suspect I didn't let it culture long enough, but it tasted good and was the thickness of buttermilk. Multiple factors led me to making another steamed bread.

I only made steamed bread once before, which seems to differ from steamed pudding (the only one I've ever made was for a Daring Baker Challenge) in that it is extremely lean and devoid of sugar. The first recipe I made was Hungry Tigress's, and it was just perfect according to me. Not sweet, very earthy, close-crumbed and moist yet dense, it was one of the nicest little breads, one that I actually considered a cake due to shape and how I ate it copiously slathered in rhubarb-ginger jam.

I altered a recipe in a 1940's cookbook that was very similar to Tigress's recipe. I made a half recipe, since the full one was very large (with 4 cups of flour), and because Tigress's blend of rye and whole wheat flours with cornmeal made such an intriguing flavor, I could bear to use plain all purpose for the whole recipe. I also subbed in my "cream yogurt/buttermilk" to feel, which led to a recipe really not worth recording. I will say it was not unlike the bread I first made, so go immediately to Hungry Tigress and make yourself a steamed walnut bread, substitute some pitted dates for the walnuts, and you will basically have the delicious version that came off of my stove top yesterday afternoon.

steamed date bread
steamed date bread

And, yes, I did eat that wedge above with a little scoop of pineapple ice cream after dinner last night - and it was delicious.

Steaming bread is a technique I want to explore more, and one that if the weather holds in a cool, damp pattern makes my kitchen laboratory feel comfortable and old-fashioned. Meanwhile, when basic home economics have me feeling blue, I remember my wealth in quality foods and can't stay sad for long. Before long, my yard (along with local markets) will sprout vigorously with all the inspiration and sustenance I need for a healthy life, and that is such a comforting thought these cloudy days.

Mango Jam with Cayenne and Black Pepper

It may be safe to say I'll never make another jam without adding some chile peppers to it. I'm addicted. I'll even go as far as to say that I like jam better when it has a hint of the other side of sweet, an afterthought of calm warmth in my mouth. This morning when I woke up earlier than normal (after going to bed much later than usual), instead of feeling groggy and somewhat fuzzy, I felt invigorated and inspired.

My hands are on the mend, and after cleaning up a few dishes from a small dinner party last night I turned to the mangoes that were meant both for mango lassis and frozen storage for future smoothies. All of a sudden, I found a pot of jam on the stove and an excellent breakfast in my belly comprised of mango pits gnawed as clean as cobs of corn.

mango cutting

Mangoes appear to be perfectly in season, and I say this purely based on flavor and not any previous knowledge of when exactly a mango tree is actually prolifically in season. Mangoes are also dirt cheap right now, and armed with the previously culled and stored knowledge that they are a fruit very sensitive to pesticides (and thus rarely sprayed), I usually enjoy the non-organic variety of this fruit. I commonly see the larger, human-heart sized blushing green variety I presume come from Hawaii, but when I find good prices on the smoother fleshed, slender yellow "champagne" mangoes, I get really excited and sometimes go overboard on purchasing them. They taste like exotic peaches, impossibly smooth and slippery in your mouth, and completely without the fibrous tendencies of the more common mangoes. They are mango sophisticates.


I had a couple of varieties of mango already in my possession, and the jam bug hit as I began cubing them up for the freezer. Last week, I moved a jar of cayenne peppers I had dried from my garden last Summer, and I figured mango jam would do well to include that deep, red friend. I also used a combination of orange and lime juices, predominately because I didn't have more than a single lime. I made the most of it by zesting it and including that zest towards the end of the jamming stage. Multiple spoonfuls of boiling jam pot goodness, and this image of Tigress's pepper spiked preserved kumquats, had me also reaching for the pepper grinder...

lime zest

Mango Jam with Cayenne and Black Pepper (inspired by Linda Ziedrich, Hungry Tigress)

my yield was 3 half pints and 1 3/4 pint jars
  • 2 lbs. mango, peeled and diced
  • 2 cayenne peppers, stemmed and roughly chopped (I left the seeds in)
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced
  • enough juiced orange to equal 1/2 c. when added to the lime juice
  • coarsely ground black pepper to taste,
  • 3 c. (574 g.) sugar (I used raw sugar)

Combine the mangoes, cayenne peppers, lime and orange juices in a preserving pot and cook gently over medium low heat until the mangoes soften and are tender. After they have softened, mash lightly with a masher then add sugar. (Taste, and if it isn't hot enough for you, add more cayenne pepper or powdered cayenne pepper.)

Increase the heat to medium, stirring frequently to make sure all the sugar has dissolved. When sugar has dissolved, raise the heat to medium high, add several grinds of coarse black (tellicherry) pepper and boil until a spoonful of jam mounds up when placed on a chilled dish. Stir in the lime zest.

Ladle jam into sterilized and still hot jam jars (use pint, 3/4 pint, or half pint jars), and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

mango jam with cayenne and black pepper
mixed app iPhone pic homage to Tigress...

This chile spiked mango jam has a nice soft heat balanced with peachy sweetness. I can't wait to eat it on grilled cheeses and with cheese (which is my new favorite way to eat jam, I think). It may make a nice seltzer drink, or when thinned, a terrific sauce for vanilla ice cream or a topping for some rich, creamy cheesecake. Half the fun of making a new jam is deciding what to lop spoons of it onto!

My idea of jam making has changed so much in the past few years. I used to think that I could only make jam with fruit that I'd grown myself and in huge batches - probably reminiscent of the way my family preserved jam when I was growing up. Thanks to so many small-batch preservers, I've made stellar little 4 jar experiments with supermarket fruit that have slyly surprised me with their deliciousness. I've grown bold, adding herbs and spices to things I'd never considered, thanks to so many of my favorite preservers - maybe I will make it my 2012 mission to add chiles to everything I pop into jars.

mango jam with cayenne and black pepper