This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wild garlic and other smelly food

One of the native plants that is fairly common along the roads is a wild onion, Allium canadense, which is commonly called wild garlic or wild onion. It has small flowers that are not conspicuous, and mixed in with the flowers are little bulblets. The leaves are not at all onion-like--they look like grass.
All the wild onions are edible. I took a bite of one of the little bulblets and found it was full of flavor--a bit too much. Mild is not the word that I would use to describe it. The one native wild onion that is widely used for food is the wild leek, allium tricoccum, which in the Appalachian region is called the ramp. When I lived in West Virginia many years ago, one of the celebrations of spring were ramp dinners. The leaves of the wild leeks were gathered and prepared as the vegetable for a dinner with ham and cornbread. Newcomers were warned that if they went to a ramp dinner, everyone would know where they had been for several days after--the smell of the ramps would stay with you.

I do not know if ramps or wild leeks grow in our area. If they do, I would love to find some. They seem to be a plant of the woods, not of the prairie.

Onions can be frozen as a way to preserve them. We tried it. What we did not know is that even if you double-bag the frozen onions, the smell of onion will escape and every time you open the freezer, you will get the onion smell. Maybe if you use glass containers you can contain the smell.

I will forgo experimenting with wild garlic because I have a patch of Egyptian walking onions. also known as tree onions. They are a hybrid between the common onion and another species. They come up every year, and if you leave them alone they spread rapidly in two ways. First, the bulbs from the previous year will split and become two onions in the spring. And second, the little bulblets that form instead of flowers will drop off in the fall and become new plants in the spring. So a tiny patch can become a rather big patch in just a few years.

I have found two ways to use them. First, in the spring you can dig them up and use them as green onions. The ones I have have a mild flavor, but apparently that is not true of all of them. As summer approaches, the bulbs become woody and are not appealing, but by then the bulblets on the top are forming. They can be collected and cooked with peas or beans and are quite tasty, though you may have to peel off the outer layer to get to the soft insides.

This year, perhaps because of the heat, there were some flowers on these onions. You can see a few of them on the left side of the picture below.
If you would like to start your own patch of walking onions, contact me. I am willing to share.


Capouch said...

There's a medium-sized patch of ramps in the lot behind the old Evert House hotel in Medaryville.

Anonymous said...

If you want to play with the flavor, and help the environment, play with the mild flavor of garlic mustard leaves. The more people harvesting/eradicating that plant the better! Chow down!