Northwestern Pennsylvania has an abundance of wild onions, known as Leeks or Ramps, that are up for grabs to anyone that likes to get a little dirty and a little smelly. These tasty onions can add flavor to any dish and can also pack a heat punch that many people desire. The best part; they are FREE. They are one of the first greens that pop up after the spring thaw, so as soon as the snow melts you can begin targeting these vegetables.
Where to Look
Leeks can be found on almost any hill side, generally in the shade and they resemble that of an overgrown green onion. Go for a ride in your car in the early spring through the mountains of Pennsylvania and you will see them in abundance on the hillside. Take note that the earlier that you dig leeks, the more heat they will have. So, if you prefer a milder tasting onion, wait a few weeks for them to grow and mature.
How to Dig
Leeks are a fairly shallow rooted plant, meaning you don’t have to dig very deep to harvest them. All you need is a shovel, a knife, and a bucket or bag to begin your harvest. Leeks generally grow in clusters, so you will be able to dig a bucket full rather quickly. Place your shovel next to a cluster and press down a few inches. Push down on your shovel’s handle and pop up the cluster. The cluster will remain encased in the surrounding dirt. And when they are loose from the ground, you can separate the individual leeks by hand.
I take this time to cut off the leaves, where the white meets the green, and the end of the roots. There will be a slimy white sleeve incasing the bulb. This should slide right off when the roots are removed. Taking the sleeve off will clean the leek, so when you return home all they will need is a slight rinsing off. Try not to dig up a whole patch, but rather jump around from cluster to cluster. This will ensure that there will be leeks growing in your spot for years to come.
Leeks keep very well in the fridge and also in the freezer. You can dig a whole bunch in one afternoon and have them last for the remainder of the year. Remember a leek is very potent in flavor so a few is all you need to add to a dish.
Digging leeks is a pastime for many people. It allows families to get out of the house and enjoy nature. Grab your kid and take them out and pass on this Pennsylvania tradition.