Ramps. Unless you’re from Southern Appalachia, the name probably conjures up highway interchanges or skateboarding. Those who are familiar with wild ramps, though, will know that those images couldn’t be farther from the reality of this pungent plant.
What Are Ramps?
Also known as spring onions, ramsons, wild leeks, wood leeks, and wild garlic, ramps (Allium tricoccum) are a member of the allium family, which includes garlic and onions. The perennial wild onion grows in early spring and is a much sought after favorite of wild foragers.
They grow throughout the eastern half of the United States and Canada and are popular in the local cuisine of many states and provinces.
Ramps are easy to distinguish from other wild onions by their broad, smooth, leaves, which are light green in color, sometimes with deep purple tints. The stalks appear similar to those of scallions, though they often widen at the root for a slightly more bulbous appearance. Both the stalks and leaves are edible.
Ramp festivals, to celebrate the return of the plant, are a common occurrence in southern Appalachia, where they are most abundant. Farther north, in Canada and New England, they are scarcer and have been commercially exploited to the point where they are now protected. In these areas, many of the ramps people eat are cultivated.
Are Ramps Healthy?
Like all onions, ramps are rich in vitamins A and C, selenium, and chromium. That makes them good for teeth, bones, eyesight, the immune system, the cardiovascular system. They contain antioxidant properties that fight off harmful free radicals in the body.
Here are a few recipes to help you enjoy this wild spring delicacy:
Grilled Ramps and Asparagus Recipe
1 bunch thin asparagus
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Prelight a grill. Trim and discard the root hairs and the tough ends from the asparagus. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to evenly coat. Arrange ramps and asparagus on the grill in a single layer. Grill until hot and grill marks appear, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a platter and serve.
1 tablespoon coarse salt, plus more as needed
2 lb. ramps, cleaned, green leaves trimmed to 1″ past white and red parts
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon. mustard seed
2 teaspoons mixed peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon caraway seed
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1 bay leaf
Bring a 4-quart saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add ramps and cook until slightly tender, about 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, place ramps in an ice bath. Drain and place them in a sterilized 1-quart glass jar with airtight lid. Pour out the boiling water and combine 1 tablespoon salt, 1 cup water, vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, peppercorns, caraway seed, fennel seed, cumin seed, and bay leaf in the saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Pour mixture over the ramps and seal the jar. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
Potato Ramp Skillet Soup
6 slices bacon
4 cups chopped ramps, including leaves
4 to 5 cups diced red potatoes
3 tablespoons flour
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a large skillet, fry bacon until crispy, then set aside. Add ramps and potatoes to the skillet and fry on medium-low heat until ramps are tender. Sprinkle with flour and stir until the flour is absorbed. Stir in chicken broth and simmer until potatoes are tender. Stir in the cream and heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with bacon and serve.