I know I've rambled on about ramps many times before. Between my "About Me" page, posts, and it seems I talk about them the most on Twitter, I'm sure people are wondering what exactly are ramps. For me, they are something I simply grew up with in Appalachia. It was also something you knew you didn't want to eat if you had to be anywhere special or at least not wanting to smell of ramps for that night and the next morning. As I grew up, but I found that this wasn't completely true, as they do have a potent odor, it doesn't attach to you as fiercely as the old wives tales lead one to believe. There are festivals and dinners all around my home state of West Virginia for these delicious things. As you are reading this, I am sure some of you are still a little puzzled as to what a ramp is. That's what I am here to try and help you with.
What are they?
Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are also commonly known as wild leeks, they may also by referred to by the names spring onion, ramson, and wild garlic. Wikipedia defines a ramp as an early spring vegetable with a strong garlicky odor and a pronounced onion flavor. A perennial member of the onion family (Alliaceae), the plant has broad, smooth, light green leaves, often with deep purple or burgundy tints on the lower stems, and a scallion-like stalk and bulb. They normally grow in clusters, strongly rooted just below the surface.
Where can they be found?
Although ramps have strong ties to Appalachia, they grow throughout most of the mid-Atlantic states ranging as far north as Canada. One of the reason for the strong ties to Appalachia is because of its physical geography. Ramps are normally found in forested areas that are shady and sandy, often near rivers and streams. They frequently grow on the north side of embankments in small clumps. They can be cultivated with planting seeds or transplanting bulbs. The seeds will take from five to seven years to harvest and if you choose to transplant bulbs it should be done in early spring and will take between two to four years to be ready to harvest.
What are their uses?
There are many thing you can do with ramps. I like to eat a few raw while I am picking them, but that is just one of the many ways one can eat ramps. Some of my personal favorites are to pickle, mince into burgers, cook with potatoes and ham, stew, raw, and a salad with the greens. For other new recipes and the abilities you can always attend a ramp festival or a ramp dinner.
Festivals and Dinners
Most service organizations and Fire/EMS department around West Virginia do ramp dinners as a fund raiser in the spring, this is always a good time for the people who aren't able to go pick their own or don't have the time or ability to. One of the largest Ramp Festivals in held in Richwood, WV. The community of Richwood hosts the "Feast of the Ramson" in April, it is sponsored by the National Ramp Association. Another Ramp Festival in WV is held in Elkins. They host the "International Ramp Festival", this event has a cook-off and a ramp eating contest.