Not Duck, Not Wabbit, It's RAMP SEASON!
It’s a statistically proven fact that every year from about the middle of April through mid-May vampire attacks decrease significantly throughout the Appalachian region and, interestingly enough, Williamsburg Brooklyn, Portland Oregon and Silver Lake Los Angeles. I don’t think this is just a coincidence, as the period of time happens to coincide with the short-lived ramp season. I’m no botanist but I am pretty sure this has to do with the fact that this springtime onion is part of the allium family and allium is Latin for garlic. Then again, it might just be that even bloodsuckers are turned off by dragon breath, an unfortunate consequence of munching on these deliciously robust wild onions.
April Showers bring…
Ramps, also known as wild leaks in the Great Lake Region, are wild onions with typically two or three bright green edible leaves, a purplish stem and a small white bulb that can take up to 7 years to fully mature. And they stink, I mean really smell but like in that
something stinks in a good way kinda way. When eaten raw, they have a pungent garlicky taste with a peppery undertone that will stick with you. They are a Bubba Gump Shrimp type versatile vegetable and can be substituted for virtually any recipe that has garlic or scallions. Charred, pestled ramps make any amazing earthy pesto and mashed potatoes with caramelized ramps will rival any garlic mashed you ever had. And I look forward to my homemade indulgence which I make each year, a sauteed ramp, double creme brie omelet with a dab of Dijon served on thick cut buttered rye toast; deliciously paired with a hot French Roast and freshly squeezed orange juice.
Where Can I Find Ramps?
Ramps are native to Eastern North America, growing in the moist shady canopies of the lower mountain forests from Georgia all the way to Quebec. While they’ve been a trendy vegetable since the 2000's, its popularity is relatively new considering that for hundreds of years Native Americans and early settlers foraged the woods of Appalachia each spring for them. The Cherokee Nation ate the vitamin enriched greens to fend off illness and the mountain folk regarded the ramp as a "woodland" tonic and blood purifier. It wasn't until the farm-to-table movement kicked off by Alice Waters and her restaurant Chez Panisse in the early Seventies that other chefs started to take notice. Then, thanks to the hipster subculture and green movement emergence of the latter half of the twentieth century, high end urban grocery stores and gourmet farmer's markets that embrace eco-consciousness began to import and celebrate ramp season.
Meanwhile right now, ramp festivals throughout West Virginia and Tennessee are drawing locals and out-of-state locavores further fueling its popularity. Churches and social organizations throw weekly dinners to stink in solidarity and for the next few weeks, roadside stands will continue to burst with bushels of freshly harvested ramps. Local chefs push the limits of ramp cuisine innovation with their chili, burgers and "ramp-eroni rolls" while also continuing to embrace the traditional ramps cooked in bacon grease with potatoes and scrambled eggs.
Nowadays, nationwide superstores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes have embraced the tradition as well, but maybe not this year. There's no need to short sell your Altoids stock just yet, but as of the publication of this story, my usually reliable connect has yet to receive their harvest. I'm going to chalk it up to a temporary delay due to supply chain issues, but if they don’t get it soon, I see a long road trip in my future.