Wild ramps are a delicate-looking plant that add some serious flavor to salads, pasta, lamb and more. They have a strong garlic flavor, and can be consumed from tip to tip.
With their small white bulb, ramps resemble green onions but the leaves are something else altogether -- long, oval, and almost silky, with pointed ends. The little pistil or stem is either red or purple. All in all, one sexy plant. (Forgive me if I wax rhapsodic, but I'm a big, big fan.)
One of the last truly seasonal foods available in North America, wild ramps go by many names including wild leek, ramson, and ail de bois.
Found in forests from South Carolina to Canada, and as far west as Missouri and Minnesota, wild ramps are the first patch of edible green to appear after the snows retreat -- and were treasured by settler families desperate for any fresh food come winter's end. Ramps represent a healthy dose of vitamins, a tonic for the blood, and some much needed flavor after a winter subsisting on root vegetables. At Friend of the Farmer, we find them at farms in the Berkshire and Litchfield County hills.
If You Can Stand the Excitement . . .
Do a quick search and you will find ramp festivals throughout West Virginia this month. The "Feast of the Ramson" is trumpeted with promotional language that verges on the breathless:
"The excitement is in the air... Just enjoying the West Virginia ramps in the springtime, for me, is what it is all about. Ramps which to this day thrive in the Appalachian Mountains and valleys... There's nothing quite like Appalachian Ramps."
According to Ideas in Food, wild ramps are often served at homes in the South fried up with potatoes or scrambled with eggs. In restaurants around the country "they may be pickled and served with fried oysters or soft shell crabs, blanched and sautéed in risottos and pastas, or simply seared and tucked up beside roasted morels and grilled lamb chops."
If you're lucky enough to find them in a forest near you, their pungent flavor is yours for free. Otherwise you can expect to pay $7 to $20 per pound. Not that you need that much to impress your friends with your foraging expertise. In fact, as with eating a few buds of garlic, you might turn some heads of your own. One Charleston, West Virginia, reporter told of kids being sent home from school after having had ramps for dinner the night before.
Grab a handful while you can. Otherwise -- unless your pickling skills are up to snuff -- you'll have to wait another year to take a ride on the wild ramp side.