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Helen, Help Me: Is a Ramp Grown on My Windowsill Still a Ramp?


If you have quarantine-cooking questions for Helen, send them to themail@newyorker.com with the subject line “Helen, Help Me.

My wife, we just discovered, is pregnant. Meanwhile, there are five pounds of rib-eye steaks in our freezer. With searing to medium rare no longer an option, I am thoroughly confused. I thought perhaps sous vide, but don’t know what temperature or timing would qualify as safe. I entertained some sort of braise, but it feels like a waste of prime beef. What should I do? —Luke M., Queens, New York

I revere a gorgeously marbled rib-eye as much as the next ethically conflicted carnivore, but I do sometimes marvel at how the American predilection for steak—i.e., a big, honkin’ slab of beef—has blinded us to all the other ways those same edible parts of the cow can be put to use. Thaw your rib eye almost all the way (or, if it’s not currently frozen, pop it in the freezer for about twenty minutes) and use a very sharp knife to slice it thinly across the grain—there, you’ve got the backbone of a gorgeous stir-fry. Or shave it even more thinly (take your time, with both the knife sharpening and the meat shaving) and make yourself some sweet-spicy Korean bulgogi, or a Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich, a Sichuan hot pot, a Philly cheesesteak, or tacos enchilados, where thinly sliced meat (usually pork, but, hey, use beef!) is marinated in a spicy paste of chiles and herbs and then seared in a hot pan to a state of crispy, meaty, fiery euphoria, and served atop warm tortillas—a perfect meal to celebrate your impending parenthood!

Can you regrow ramps from their bulbs like you can with scallions and leeks? Technically, if a ramp is a wild leek, and what I’m growing is cultivated and no longer wild, is it still a ramp? —Annmarie P., Brooklyn, New York

From a practical perspective, yes, you can plop the bulb end of a ramp in a glass of water and it will re-sprout, at least a little bit. I have a few cut ramps regrowing right now, lined up next to my stoutly regrowing scallions and some re-shooting green garlic in my windowsill victory garden. As for the second part of your question, which is one of category, I’ll brush the dust off my inner Bertrand Russell and tackle this like the proper logic puzzle it is. Let’s start off with some premises:

R (ramps exist)
R → V (if something is a ramp, it’s a vegetable)
V → (W ⩒ C) (all vegetables are either wild or cultivated, but not both)
R → W (if it’s a ramp, it must be wild)

We can thus interstitially conclude that:

C → ~R (if a vegetable is cultivated, it’s not a ramp)

But we can also take somewhat axiomatically the following:

G (you’re growing vegetables in a cup of water set in your kitchen window)
G → C (if a vegetable is grown in a cup of water set in your kitchen window, it’s cultivated)

And, of course:

V ⊃ ~S (if something is a vegetable, it will not spontaneously transform into a different kind of vegetable upon being regrown in a cup of water set in your kitchen window)

Q.E.D.: G → ~R; whatever you’re growing isn’t ramps.

This is either a bold proof of the fact that ramps are not ramps, or else compelling evidence that, at least in matters culinary, certain applications of mathematical logic are largely useless. If you happen to have any liquid plant food lying around, try adding a drop to the cup of water, both to speed growth and to add a little robustness to the flavor of your ramps, or zombie ramps, or non-ramps, or whatever the hell they are.

I live in Lisbon, Portugal. Around this time every year, passionfruit descends into our frutarias from far-flung nooks of the Lusophone world. The first time I cut into a passionfruit—and inhaled it—was exactly four years ago, on the seaside road of Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili. Every year since, I would buy one, slice it open over the quiet of my kitchen sink, and take it in straight from the shell: the oyster of fruit. I’ve now gone back to my Bulgarian roots, worshipping at the altar of my pantry for survival, each ingredient picked because it can present a seemingly infinite number of possibilities. Passionfruit, consumed thousands of miles away from its native land, is suddenly revealed as a single-use delight, unfit for a time of mass hunger; a metaphor for the rot at the core of our global food system. So, I humbly ask, what should one do with this year’s crop—nay, what should we think of it? Eat it because it’s here, freeze it for better days, or reject it as I hope we reject our destructive ways? —Petya K., Lisbon

This is the great ethical question of all consumption, isn’t it? On one hand, what’s done is done—the passionfruit has already been shipped across the world, the cow has already been slaughtered, the thousand-year-old sequoia has already been chopped down. On the other hand, what’s done begets more doing. If we let the passionfruit go uneaten, in protest of the harm it causes, will the harm have all been imposed for nothing? If we consume it, to temper that harm with a dose of pleasure, are we simply creating more demand—more future harm? There’s no single answer; it varies by scope, by place, by person, by need, by thing. Some measure of destruction is inevitable: we should strive to tread lightly in our lives, but it’s impossible not to tread at all. Still, that’s no excuse for recklessness. One passionfruit is a time machine of memory, ten are a fruit-bowl frivolity, a thousand might be a bloodstain. It’s right there in the poem that is your question: make decisions that feel important, enact them at a scale that feels meaningful, and try to slurp from them every golden drop. If you do have room in your freezer for a few passionfruit, you might as well save one or two for later.

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