Family Meal: Ramps season
Olivia Hagerty, Cook at Lilia
Born in Traverse City, Michigan, Olivia moved to New York in 2014 to study sculpture at The Cooper Union. As a lover of food and working with her hands, she pursued a job cooking in restaurants while finishing up college. She started working at Lilia after a chance encounter with Chef Missy at the Union Square Greenmarket. She began as a member of the morning prep team and shortly moved on to work the line on garde manger, pastry, and sauté stations, and most recently, pasta station.
The transition into springtime has always been important to me. As winter ends and we shed sweaters, beanies, and boots, we make ourselves vulnerable to the elements again. But in my hometown of Traverse City, Michigan, springtime meant one thing and one thing only: ramps. You could find evidence of their arrival everywhere. Their funky smell permeated the air. Handwritten signs at roadside farm stands read “RAMPS $2 A BUNCH.” Ramps are a springtime delicacy; a member of the allium family that look like a cross between a scallion and a leek. They are foraged for in the wild and have a unique onion flavor. Lilia veterans might remember last year’s springtime pasta, the bright green “ramp spaghetti alla chitarra.”
When I lived in Michigan, my family and I would load up the car and drive out into the woods, towards one of our several ramp foraging locations. These locations are always undisclosed, every family has their very own secret spot. The woods were damp, soggy, and smelled strongly of onions, so you knew that ramps were nearby. We would use them in everything—in frittatas, on pizzas, grilled with steaks, and my personal favorite, shallow fried in olive oil and eaten alone, like a crunchy, onion-y potato chip.
My first couple of years in New York, springtime was bittersweet. I felt I was missing out on my family tradition. So as a way to remember these experiences, naturally, I got a ramp tattoo on my arm. I began working at Lilia shortly after. I was on the morning prep team, which meant I picked parsley, peeled garlic, pressed tomatoes, and cleaned clams.
Once springtime arrived, I was prepping when one of our purveyors came in and dropped off the first of many ramp deliveries that season. There were so many of them that they came in several large plastic laundry baskets. I began to clean them all—soaking them to shed the dirt and then using a small knife to remove the roots. The task seemed never-ending, but to me, it was a labor of love. I went back to my apartment that night covered in dirt, reeking of onions, and reminded of home. I cleaned many more ramps that season, but I never took it for granted. The other chefs would joke that I would regret my choice to get the tattoo, but I never did.
Today, as I sit inside, unable to be home in Michigan and unable to be in the kitchen at Lilia, I can see the ramp on my arm and I look forward to cleaning and tasting them again. I am excited to cook with them alongside my kitchen team and to serve them to guests who have never heard of ramps before. In the meantime, we can only recall these experiences, remember who we enjoyed them with, and savor the flavors.