Ramps: America’s Love Affair with the Smelly (But Addictively Delicious) Wild Leek

Fresh ramps, root to tip

Fresh ramps, root to tip

Over the years, many North Americans have come to know and love the lowly wild member of the onion family known as the “ramp” (Allium tricoccum). Why? Ramps possess an unmistakable flavor and powerful aroma that immediately announces their membership in the widespread onion family (Alliaceae), but which is, at the same time, absolutely unique. Ramps, or wild leeks, as they are commonly known in the northern part of their range, have earned their place in the lore of the Appalachian hill country where they have been a tradition as far back as anyone can remember.

What makes ramps, and wild foods in general, so popular? Perhaps they appeal to some innate impulse that goes back to our hunter-gatherer past, or perhaps we unconsciously identify them as a wholesome and nutritious food. It may even be that harvesting wild foods gives us the satisfaction of “getting something for nothing,” a feeling that appeals to us all.

Ramps have an interesting annual cycle, first poking their sturdy green shoots up very early in the spring, often by mid-March, sometimes through a thin layer of snow. “Early ramps” are pencil-slender, with thin, white bulbs and tender green shoots. Many ramp lovers swear that the early ramps are the best of them all, with a pungent, hot bite and intense flavor. As the weather warms, the green tops grow tall and broad, the stems take on a purple-reddish hue and the bulbs slowly begin to swell. Later in their growing season, the leaves yellow and die back, a flowering stem emerges and the bulbs become fat & sweet.

Tender, young "early ramps"

Tender, young “early ramps”

Each stage of the ramp’s growth has its own special qualities which are particularly suited to different preparations – but all are delicious. Whether you know it best as the ramp or the wild leek, we heartily encourage you to enjoy & experiment with the wonderful flavor of this humble, yet highly esteemed plant and to support the responsible harvest of a time-honored wild food.

Are Ramps Being Overharvested?

Masses of ramps

Ramps are a wild resource that can be inexhaustible – if they are harvested & managed responsibly. Since their huge boom in popularity in recent years (largely fueled by their “must-have” status in top restaurants across the country), there’s been a lot of talk about the overharvesting of ramps and wild leeks. It’s true that overharvesting can severely damage the natural forest ecosystem that ramps and other plants need to survive.

Several years ago, Earthy Delights created a set of guidelines for responsible ramp harvesting which all of our foragers are contractually obligated to follow. We recommend that all ramp foragers, casual or professional, harvest only 20% of any ramp patch each season in order to preserve the abundant supply of this much-loved resource for the future. Ramps are prolific breeders and, like other allium relatives, can multiply both by root division and the production of seeds. Given time, the ramps you DON’T pick can easily replenish those which you’ve harvested.

Bottom line: don’t overpick your local ramp patch and you’ll be able to enjoy them forever – and that’s a long, long time.

 Favorite Ramp Recipes

Ramps have gained a wide following and with such intense, robust flavor, it’s easy to understand why.  The enticing taste of spicy-garlicky ramps cuts across all social and economic boundaries, making them equally appropriate for upscale white tablecloth dining establishments or down-home country picnics.  Following are four of our favorite ramp recipes that we’re sure you’ll enjoy.

Ramp Risotto with Blue Cheese

Ramp Risotto with Blue Cheese

Making risotto is a contemplative process. It’s not difficult; it just takes a certain amount of planning and time. Assemble your ingredients, heat the stock – then just stand at the stove and stir.

Ramp risotto captures the freshness of spring by using the two parts of the plant – the bulb with stem and the green leafy tops – differently. The pungent bulb, with its distinctive flavor and potent garlicky bite, goes in early in the cooking process. The long, slow simmering tames the sharpness and infuses that unique ramp flavor throughout the risotto. The ramp greens which have previously been blanched and pureed, are stirred in near the end of the cooking process to preserve both their vivid color and fresh flavor.

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Frankfurters with Grilled Ramp Relish

Grilled Ramp Relish

If you like grilling, bacon and ramps (not in any particular order), then this recipe is for you.

Wildly flavorful ramp relish could be used as a condiment with just about anything, but we’ve paired it here with an all-American classic, a flame-grilled frankfurter.  Don’t just take our word for it – try in on your own grilling masterpiece!

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Spaghetti with Ramp Butter and Morel Mushrooms

Spaghetti with Ramp Butter and Morel Mushrooms

Many of our favorite wild foods seem to appear all at once in the early spring, which can make it hard to appreciate each one adequately. A practical way to enjoy the season’s abundance is to combine several of them together into a single dish. Another is to preserve the fresh flavors of the spring wild harvest so they can be enjoyed all year round. This dish does both.

For those who love the wild flavors of two spring companions, morel mushrooms and ramps, this is comfort food at its very best. It’s even easier if you already have the ramp butter made in advance and ready to go.

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Tall, flaky biscuits, fresh from the oven

Buttermilk Ramp Biscuits

Here, to tantalize your taste buds, is one of our most popular recipes of all time – Buttermilk Ramp Biscuits.

There is nothing difficult about making wonderful hot, fresh biscuits if you follow a few basic steps. With a little bit of practice, you can whip up a batch in 15 minutes or less (plus baking time, of course). Slide them into the oven and you’ll have just enough time to brew up a pot of coffee before they’re ready.

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Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of hard-to-find ingredients and our complete Recipe Collection of over 500 tested recipes.

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