When ramps arrive, it is almost a guarantee that we are truly locked into spring and that one can finally bid adieu to winter.
Photo credit: Larry Buscher
Ramps have become increasingly popular over the last few years in upscale restaurants; and they are not easy to find in standard food stores. They can sometimes be procured in specialty food boutiques or a good farmer’s market. If you have good fortune, you may even have them lurking in your own yard or alongside many highways and thruways (although we don’t recommend pulling over and taking risks to harvest them). They are perennials.
What is a ramp? They are in the onion (allium) family and grow between Canada all the way down to the Carolinas. Ramp season is typically between March and July. Depending upon geographical location, the window of opportunity to find them is usually a short one.
Sometimes they are referred to as a “wild leek”, usually resembling a scallion with broad leaves which are generally smooth and light green in color. In addition, they often feature deep purple hues on the lower stems, and feature a stalk and bulb. Both the white lower leaf stalks and the broad green leaves are edible.
These wonderful wild onions can be eaten raw or cooked. Trim the roots prior to using them. The flavor profile is generally stronger than onions, leeks, or scallions; and have a pronounced garlicky/onion taste. Once harvested or purchased, simply store them by wrapping them tightly in a plastic bag and refrigerate up to a week. Ramps have a tradition of being fried with potatoes in rendered bacon fat or incorporated with scrambled eggs and served with bacon, beans (usually pinto) and cornbread in the more southern states. They can also be pickled in addition to being cooked into soups/stews in lieu of garlic and onions. A most recent thought was to sauté, and place atop grilled, or wood oven pizza.
The New York Times just featured a great article by Alice Gabriel providing context to this wonderful culinary plant.
If you’ve never had a ramp, now is the time to go out and get some and work them into your spring kitchen repertoire.