Monday, April 16, 2007

Ramps are Here!

It's almost an annual tradition now. Our friends around the corner, Helen and Jeff, hail from West Virginia. Each spring they make a weekend trip back to their state of origin and casually announce that they will probably be hunting for ramps.

For the unitiated, ramps (Allium tricoccum) are a kind of leek that grows wild in damp, woodsy environments. It has a similar flavor to leeks, perhaps a bit more garlicky, only the green leafy parts are edible as well as the white stems.

Being one of the first edible plants to emerge in spring, ramps in the Appalachians have long been viewed as a tonic from a long winter without fresh vegetables. Many mountain communities hold ramp festivals in the Spring, celebrating their wild leeks with bluegrass music, clogging and line dancing.

Professional chefs have caught on. Now demand for ramps is so great that officials at Smoky Mountain National Park banned the harvesting of ramps in 2002. Overharvesting can set the plant back years. With native ramp supplies dwindling, horticulturists are now working on methods of cultivating ramps in man-made environments.

Typically Jeff will drop a bag of ramps at our door with an admonition that they haven't been cleaned or trimmed or anything. That's alright with us. You can't buy these at any store in the District of Columbia that I know of. (Or maybe you can and I just haven't heard of it. Readers, please correct me if I'm wrong.)

I don't need to say too much more about ramps because there's already been a fine posting over at the Bacon Press blog, with directions for sauteeing the ramps with a heap of bacon. I make them a little differently. I blanch them in salted boiling water first, then throw them into a skillet with sizzling extra-virgin olive oil.

The ramp delivery worked perfectly this year because we had already arranged a casual lunch with our friend Eric and at the last minute my sister Linda decided to join us. So we had a salad of greens with poached asparagus, sectioned oranges and an orange-mustard vinaigrette, garnished with tat soi blossoms, along with a frittata of ramps, baby potatoes, herbed goat cheese and garlic chives from the garden.

Very Spring-like and a fine way to enjoy ramps.


Tanya said...

One of the stands at the Dupont Circle Freshmarket has (Sun am 9-1, it's the one closest to the entrance to the Q st metro). They're kinda pricey though, $6 for a small bunch or $10 for 2.

Ed Bruske said...

Yo! That is expensive.
Thanks so much for the tip, Tanya. It's good to know you can get them at the local farmer's market in a pinch. Meantime, I think I will continue foraging for wild ramps.