Freshly picked ramsons, Allium ursinum

Almost every year I pick ramsons in the wood and pickle them in salt, as I learned Siberia. They use a different species, alpine leek (Allium victorialis), but I know that in the European part of Russia they like to use ramsons, and the result is hard to tell apart.

Chopped ramsons

When picking ramsons, take only the leaves, so the bulb can survive. In Siberia, where people forage in the deep forest, they are most particular about only taking the leaves, leaving the onion, and only some of the leaves, to let the plants grow on, and tolerate another picking the following year.

First I chop the leaves, then I weigh them, and add 2-4 grams of salt per 100 grams of ramsons.

I use a tool or my hands

The chopped and salted ramsons will now be squeezed, so that the cell walls are broken apart and the juice becomes visible. I started out using a wooden pounder, but it came to my mind that I always end up using my hands. It’s faster, easier and more comfortable by hand, but I could not take a photo at the same time. After this process, the leaves have become quite dark and covered with its juice.

Salted ramsons packed airtight

As with sauerkraut, the ramsons must be packed airtight. I used a zipper-lock plastic bag and apparently it worked great. There was less residual air left than when I pack in glass. But the very next day I had to recognize that plastic bags are not aroma proof. The whole fridge smelled intensely of ramsons, even on entering the house you could notice the smell of ramsons.

Cheremsha – salted ramsons in small glasses

The solution was to pack the salted ramsons in small roe glasses. Now they can be stored in the refrigerator without any leak of aroma.

I call the result for Cheremsha (Черемша in Russian), as they name it in Siberia. The aroma is even stronger than in the fresh ramsons, so a little goes a long way. The intense chemical sense on opening a glass should not upset you, as it is how it should be. Once it gets mixed with sour cream or other ingredients, the wonderful flavour comes out, a true delicacy. Cheremsha is also used in meatballs and other recipes with minced meat.
I think the salt pickling process enhance the umami component in the taste of ramsons.

Where I pick my ramsons?
It’s a secret, but I can reveal, that they are very common in woods around Copenhagen – just keep off my little spot of ramsons 😉

Here’s a YouTube from Khabarovsk in Siberia (jump 2½ minutes ahead):

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Victory onion (Allium victorialis)

As many other people, I´m very fond of ramsons (Allium ursinum), I even had them in the garden (and maybe still have). Ramsons are invasive where they thrive. They went under the raspberries, to keep them down, but I’ve had second thoughts and given the plants I could detect away. The good thing about ramsons is that you in short time have a lot of them to eat, and no matter how much you pick (or weed) them they just continue growing.

Some years ago I had victory onion from several sources. It is much larger than ramsons, and where ramsons defoliate in the summer, victory onion keeps the leaves into the autumn. The very best is that it spreads very slowly, like a peony, and selfseeding is no problem. Only some of the seeds will sprout, and in the years they need to grow mature, they are very sensitive to animals activities. In other words – I have plenty of time to weed any volunteers if any should come.
It is actually quite difficult to grow from seed in open ground, due the the many mishappenings that are likely to hit small seedling in an ordinary garden in a span of five years. I haven’t succeded yet.

In wintertime the nettet stubs remind me where victory onion grows

My first encounter with victory onion was in Siberia 1993. At most of the meals in private homes was served a sidedish черемша (cheremsha or tjeremsha), salted victory onion in smetana. I immediately became a fan of cheremsha! I love caviar, but this is even better. For years I tried to convince somebody in Siberia to send me seeds or plants, they only laughed at me and tried to make me understand that their victory onion can’t grow in gardens, they grow in the taiga and only there!

For years I only saw leaves

Stubborn or persistent? I started a search on the internet. Found Stephen Barstow in Norway, who send me some seeds of victory onion. I couldn’t get them to grow, but then I made contact with a friendly japanese woman in Sapporo in Japan. I had seen her photos of Allium victorialis in her garden. She send me seeds, and some of them sprouted after 6 months. Unfortunately they were all destroyed by animals passing my gardens in the next three years, although I did try to protect them with chickenwire. Time is a serious factor in the culture of victory onion.
Stephen Barstow has written about victory onion (seiersløk).

Seiersloek, victory onion from Norway
Victory onion in flower – after years waiting

The seedy failures didn’t change me being stubborn/persistant. A dutch bulbcompany N.C. Nijssen offered two clones – ofcourse I had to buy both. Now I had a clone from Kemerovo in western Siberia and one from Cantabria in Spain. The one from Kemerovo is almost half size of the cantabrian one. A year after this “victory”, I saw some norwegians writing in a webboard about a local variety, grown in gardens on some of the Islands in Lofoten. I made contact with a norwegian woman on the island Vestvågøy, who send me a victory onion from her garden. Interestingly it seems, that her plant is the one that grows best in my garden. Investigations in the genetics of this victory onion shows, that it is likely to have come from Caucasus, where it once was in garden culture, and brought to Vestvågøy by vikings 1000 years ago.

Seedhead, victory onion clone from Kemerovo in Siberia

Victory onion clone from Kemerovo has been very willing to flower and produce seeds. I’ve collected the seeds and shared them with other seedsavers, telling them about the challenge.

Stephen Barstow visited danish gardens in the summer 2008, I was lucky – he passed by my garden. He even brought me gifts: Allium victorialis spp. platyphyllum and Allium ochotense. The first is the same kind as the one I tried to grow from seeds from Japan, the other one is a synonym for Allium victorialis spp. platyphyllum. I wonder if they will look just alike. There could be differences, as it is not the same clone. And if I should decide to collect seeds, it’s a benefit to have parent plants that are not the same clone. They are both from far east asia, although I formerly wrote in this post that the latter was from Estonia. Well it passed through Estonia on its way to my garden. It probably passed a lot more countries, since departure from it’s original habitat.