Go leeks go

Wild leeks, left, and Roast Chicken with Leeks PHOTO: MICHAEL GODEL

as seen on canada.com

Foraging for wild edibles in Ontario’s forests can be a bit of a cat and mouse affair. Fiddle heads unfurl to become ferns in the blink of an eye. Morels and other fungi pop from the loam, air-dry, wither and petrify well-nigh faster than they can be spotted and cut away.  A fragile spring ephemeral’s fleeting emergence is quickly curtailed by nature’s short season, much like this year’s edition of NHL hockey. The Toronto Maple Leafs are certainly destined to follow nature’s folly but that one character win may be all that is needed to sustain and re-energize a hockey-crazed Leafs nation.

The Blue and White (and to a lesser extent, the Ottawa Senators) are the “it plant” right now, the wild leeks of hockey. The playoffs always swell with controversy, like the argument over the pillaging of forests for commercial use. Despite a growing polemic swirl over their use in restaurant kitchens, the eastern part of North America has turned into wild leek heaven. Unfazed chefs will only concern themselves as to whether or not leeks in late spring should be relegated to pickling.

A bit of etymology for you. Allium tricoccum are garlic-like, savoury, herbal and piquant bulbs prized for their subtle pungency and gastronomic versatility. From the Scottish word ramps or ramshthe Old English hramsa and  the Proto-germanic hramsaz. Also known as ramson (latin) or ramuscium and “chicagoua,” an American aboriginal name for wild leek. Leeks grow in the northeast, mainly in New England, west to Michigan, north to Ontario and also east to Quebec and New Brunswick.

Lake Simcoe Wild Leeks (Photos: Michael Godel)

So what’s the problem? Quebec considers les poireaux des vignes a vulnerable plant and feels their removal is damaging to a forest’s’ ecosystem. A few years back it became illegal to harvest them for commercial use. Endangered and protected in Quebec, but not in Ontario. Harvest Ontario and companies life Front-Door Organics believe the practice is sustainable and if done right there is the possibility for regeneration. Some stick to a 20% removal rule, some 5%. Some take only the leaves, some also remove the purple petiole (stem), others the bulbs but not the roots. Still others go right down to the roots but leave the hardened tuber below. There really is no proof as to what ultimately damages or saves the plant’s community. Discretion is key.

I am blessed and fortunate to have access to a private forest carpeted with millions of wild leeks. I dig up perhaps two hundred each year, moving from clump to clump, carefully selecting one here and there. I move throughout the entire forest, careful not to leave any distinguishable trace or bare patch. Selective thinning is about as far as I take my harvest.

What I have successfully experimented with is the idea that ramps can be cultivated in their native habitats. I have transplanted them to my Toronto backyard in four consecutive years and they have returned each time. Some have even divided and multiplied. It’s an amazing thing to see, my own homemade mesic woods complete with the true harbingers of spring.

Here are four quick wild leek dishes and four current release wines to match.

From left: GreenLane Estate Unoaked Chardonnay 2011, Vineland Estates Chenin Blanc 2011, Domaine Allimant-Laugner Crémant d’Alsace Rosé and Tyrrell’s Brookdale Semillon 2012

Fresh Linguine, padano parmesan, wild leeks

GreenLane Estate Unoaked Chardonnay 2011 (329409, $17.95) out of Niagara’s Lincoln Lakeshore is really good juice. Piques thoughts of juicy, just picked apples, green and white flesh melon. A waterfall of viscid acidity marked by chalk and stone supports my bent for this appellation and the unplugged Chardonnay revolution. Double “L” is the spot for this style and 2011 delivers.  90  @GreenLaneWinery

Fresh Linguine with Wild Leeks

Jamaican Yam, Parsnip and Yukon Gold Potato Mash, wild leeks

Vineland Estates Chenin Blanc 2011 (227033, $18.95) is possessed of a manly musk and the scent of a lit wick. Warm, waxy, lanolic acid bite, long, stratified and along with the bottling by Cave Spring, this is the epitome of Chenin Blanc astride the Niagara Escarpment. The wine occupies white fruit, flowers and honey territory too. Layered in stratum and sub-stratum, like an onion, or a wild leek.  90  @benchwineguy

Root Vegetable Mash with Wild Leeks

Roast Chicken, white wine, tomato, parsley, wild leeks

Domaine Allimant-Laugner Crémant d’Alsace Rosé (319939, $19.95) from 100% Pinot Noir announces its versatility from sip number one. Lucent and vivid Alsatian sparkler, crisp, creamy distilled raspberry, red apple and vanilla pureé. Good verve, nuance and I love the understatement. All you really need on the patio, with mom next weekend and with a piquant wild leek preparation. 89  @NLaugner

Eggplant, fiddleheads, basil, wild leeks

Tyrrell’s Brookdale Semillon 2012 (269316, $19.95) is vividly green, as in young and inexperienced and not yet ready to tell you its story. From the outset it asks for five plus patient years so it may flesh out and open its library doors. Though only in hints, there is green plum, craggy salinity, zinging spice and stonking lanolin spiked by lemon juice and zest. Put some away and wait.  91  @TyrellsWines

Good to go!

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