Digging Leeks is a rite of Spring here in Appalachia. We did not have leeks near our homeplace in Tioga Township back in the 60’s when I was growing up there. However, we were close friends with a farm family outside of Mansfield up Mann Creek; the same farm which became Bucktail Camping Resort in the 1970’s. While working, playing, roaming and exploring that farm as kids, we were introduced to a coveted leek patch which had provided many a fine Spring-meal for those farmsteaders and, fortunately for us, their friends and kinfolk as well.
When the farm sold for the development of the campground, it became clear that the leek patch would be sacrificed for progress. Our last Spring digging leeks there was a bittersweet affair. After filling a galvanized wash tub to carry back to the truck. Shortly thereafter, the bulldozers arrived and the leek patch was only a fond memory.
Meanwhile back in Tioga Township, most of that last harvest was processed into soups, side dishes, sandwiches and the requisite ham & Leek dinner. My brothers and I reserved a half bucket of those leeks to “transplant” close to home. Giving it our best boyhood effort, we buried a few individual plants here and there in a general wooded area and we checked expectantly Spring after Spring of signs of our “own” leek patch, but alas, it seemed it was not to be. We eventually gave up hope, grew up and left home, starting our own families and locating alternate wild leek patches around the county to supply our annual “taste of Spring”.
After the passing of many years, and during a family gathering at the the homeplace one April, I took a walk in the woods and ending up walking into the are where we had transplanted the Mann Creek leeks so long ago. Suffice to say, I was nearly brought to tears when I saw the most beautiful leek patch you can imagine; lush, full and nearly a quarter acre in area. Like a fresh green carpet in a still winter brown woods. It was a sight to behold and instantly brought back back fond memories of that original Mann Creek patch and of the fun times we shared on that farm with that wonderful family. After my wife and I acquired land from my parents years ago and needless to say, I dig at least a batch of leeks every Spring even though I no longer eat them myself. I have a dear old friend who will turn 86 this year he eagerly anticipates my delivery of leeks every Spring.
I dug a batch the other morning and spent several hours in the welcomed sunshine cleaning them. If you find a patch and have not dug leeks before, remember, it’s called “digging” for a reason! Don’t try to pull the leeks as you might an onion. Leeks, or “ramps”, as some might call them, a complex root system that intertwine and cling to the surrounding rocks, tree roots, buried sticks, or anything else they can attach to. Pulling will only break the stems off. I prefer to use a heavy tined fork to slide into the soil beneath the root system and lifting the entire mass straight up. Once separated from the Earth, it’s good to shake vigorously to separate as much dirt from the mass as possible, leaving a mat of roots, leeks and residual dirt. Lots of water comes next, dipping, shaking the leeks to remove the dirt. Several successive dipping/shaking/rinsing sessions may be needed to remove all remaining dirt, leaves & other forest debris. A sharp knife is next used to cut the roots from the bulb at the bottom of the stem. An easily removable membrane will now slide right off the end of the bulb reveling the fleshy, white, meaty portion of the leek. One more thorough rinse in clean water and your leeks are ready to the pot or to eat right right out of hand! Enjoy!
Here is a recipe for Stoney’s Leek Dip we often enjoy at home:
1 Quart Salad Dressing
1 Pint Sounr Cream
2 TBSP Bacon Bits
8 oz Shredded Cheddar
3/4 C Finely Chopped Leeks (no Leaves)
Below are some other great resources for Leek recipes: