The ramp, also known sometimes as a wild leek, is a wild onion native to North America growing anywhere from South Carolina to Canada. The bulb of a ramp resembles that of a scallion but it’s the broad flat leaves of the ramp that set it apart. The word ramp comes from “rams” or “ramson,” an Elizabethan dialect rendering of the wild garlic, according to John Mariani, author of “The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink.”
West Virginia is well known for ramps and you can see this celebrated in the many festivals and events held throughout the spring season. Among the most notable festivals are those in Richwood, Barbour County and Elkins.
Ramps grow in the spring time and are usually ready for harvesting in mid-April. All you have to do is go out into the woods and find a good moist area that doesn’t receive a whole lot of sunlight, and you can usually find ramps. While digging them, keep in mind to dig around the ramp and be sure to get all the way down to the roots.
A TIP FROM MY GRANDFATHER: Never dig all the ramps from one area, only a few from each patch. Digging all the ramps out of an area will likely lead to them not growing there again.
Don’t let that stop you from enjoying the wonderful and unique flavor of the ramp. Ramps can literally go with any dish that calls for onions. Just simply exchange the onions for ramps, and you won’t be disappointed.
However, ramp season isn’t long, so here are some tips and recipes that I’ve come across over the years, so that not a single ramp goes to waste.
1) As I said before ramps go with anything that onions go with, so the first dish I would recommend is simple. Fried Potatoes and Ramps: simply grease a pan, add potatoes let them cook, then add the ramps later either chopped or whole along with some salt and pepper.
2) Ramps also go great with eggs, either fried, scrambled or in an omelet. I would recommend a ham, cheese and ramp omelet.
3) If you’re feeling crafty, a personal favorite of mine is sausage and ramp gravy. Simply follow a recipe for any gravy and add finely chopped ramps before serving.
4) A creation of my own and maybe my favorite way to eat ramps would be the rampdog. Take your favorite hotdogs or bratwurst and slice them half way through long ways. Place a few ramps in the hotdog or brat then wrap in a slice or two of bacon. Once you have a few done, wrap them all in aluminum foil to keep the bacon from separating from the hotdog/brat and place it on the grill over low/medium heat for about 20 minutes. Place it on a bun. Add toppings of your choice, and there you have it.
5) A local favorite of the Elkins area is the Rampburger. Before making your hamburger patties chop up some ramps, and add them to your burger. Mix it well and then make your patties, place them on the grill and add the toppings of your choice.
If you’re wanting to keep your ramps throughout the year, placing them in a bag and freezing them is always an option. But here are a couple of other ways that I believe work a little better.
1) Pickled Ramps: This is an easy and tasty way to have ramps all year long. When cleaning your ramps, cut off the leaves and place them aside for other uses; place the bulbs in a pot of lightly salted boiling water for about 30 seconds then transfer the ramps to ice cold water before placing them in jars. In the meantime, bring a pot of 1 cup of vinegar and 1 cup of water to a boil, depending on how many jars you’re planning to make. This amount will make about two medium size jars. Place all the spices (coriander, peppercorn, mustard seed and fennel seed, one teaspoon of each) in the jar with the ramps. Pour the hot vinegar and water mixture into the jar. Screw on the lid. Let it sit for up to a week. Then enjoy.
2) Here’s a good way to use those leaves you cut off for the pickled ramps. If you have a dehydrator then great. If not, you can use your oven. Place the leaves and/or any ramps you have left over in the dehydrator and let them sit for up to four hours or until crisp. Remove them and use a mortar and pestle to finely crush the ramp into a spice that can be used in any recipe. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can also use your oven. Just turn it to a low 95 degrees and follow the same process.
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