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Spring Greens with Ramps, Potatoes, and Bacon

May 16, 2014
by Cornelia Emlen

My grandfather, who was born in May of 1891, would be 123 if he was alive today. Growing up in rural New England, spring meant gathering dandelion greens, sorrel, ramps, fiddleheads and marsh marigolds (cowslips) for the meals that his mother prepared. They typically ate pie for breakfast, which as a child I thought was just about the coolest thing I’d ever heard of (Cheerios just didn’t hold a candle to that). Lunches and dinners consisted mostly of vegetables with meat “as a flavoring.”

By the time my grandfather was in his mid 80s he complained regularly that food just didn’t taste as good as it used to.  His enjoyment of meals was waning. So, for his 92nd birthday, I decided to surprise him with a meal he had often told me about loving as a boy. Observing his joy while sharing that meal is something I will never forget.

That birthday dinner was many years ago now but I thought about it again this week when I spied cowslips’ budding in the wetland near our home. We just said goodbye to the last punctuation marks of snow tucked into the north facing corners in our woods and the sight of these beautiful, lush, heart shaped greens made my heart sing. Their brilliant yellow blooms will be bursting forth with the first really warm days we get.

Even if you don’t have marsh marigolds growing in or near your backyard, you can make a version of this birthday dish with any dark, leafy greens. It consists of pan or oven roasted potatoes and ramps cooked in the fat from some really good bacon. The cowslips are tossed on top of the crispy potatoes causing the greens to quickly wilt. Then the bacon is added before serving. Grandfather loved it served with cornbread.

Like my great-grandmother, I adjust my cooking to what’s in season. We’ve all grown accustomed to having everything available any time we want at the supermarket and with that availability we’ve lost both the flavor and pleasure that comes with the arrival of the next crop. The joy of meals made from what’s in the garden, field or farm in the moment makes all the difference. So make a meal that announces spring to your family. Who knows, maybe they’ll be craving it when they are in their 80s!

Author: Nel Emlen
Serves: 6
Nothing says "spring" like new greens and wild ramps. Add potatoes and bacon and you have a delicious dish that can be eaten at room temperature or hot right off the stove. Skip the bacon and substitute oil for the bacon fat to made a memorable vegetarian dish. Great for a spring potluck!
  • 2 – 2.5 pounds of gold potatoes or fingerlings
  • ¾ - 1 pound of dark, leafy greens (spinach, chard, braising mix or pak choi)
  • 1 pound bacon
  • 1 bunch ramps
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • Vinaigrette (optional)
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper
  • Vinaigrette
  1. Wash potatoes then pierce the flesh with a fork and bake either in a microwave or in an oven at 400 degrees until done (approximately 30 - 45 minutes depending on size). Let cool enough to handle and then cut into ¾” inch cubes. Note: I often bake the potatoes a day or more in advance.
  2. Cook the bacon in a heavy fry pan until crisp. Remove bacon from the pan and place on a paper towel to drain. Pour the remaining bacon fat from the pan into a glass measuring cup for later use.
  3. Either pan fry your potatoes in a few tablespoons of bacon fat or olive oil or toss them with fat or oil and salt and roast in a 385 degree oven for approximately 45 minutes or until crispy. Stir occasionally.
  4. Wash the ramps thoroughly. Remove the roots and top ½ of the greens. Chop the remaining section. Slowly cook the ramps in 2 tablespoons of bacon fat or olive oil over low heat until translucent. Set aside and add to the cooked potatoes when they are hot and crispy.
  5. Thoroughly wash the greens and spin dry. Toss with the hot potatoes and ramps. Either continue to cook all together on your stove top fry pan until completely cooked or simply let the greens wilt from the heat of the hot potatoes.
  6. Before serving, add bacon and toss.
  7. Serve as is or add your favorite vinaigrette.