If you aren’t yet familiar with ramps, that’s cool. Ramps are a source of much pleasure for many, and some poopy snobbery for some (there are “foodies” who think ramps are so over-zealously admired that they dismiss them as trendy or faddish). There is always a lot written about them as each spring approaches, in the foodie circuits, in our seasonally-crazed food world. Let’s dig in a little, but not get too crazy.
What Are Ramps?
Ramps are a lovely harbinger of spring, wild leeks that are difficult to cultivate, hence part of their mystique (think truffles), and one of the first vegetables to appear in farmers’ markets and chefs’ menus after a winter of tubers and citrus. They essentially taste like a very garlicky leek or scallion.
But because food people tend to jump on things and fetish-ize them, ramps have been placed firmly on a pedestal in recent years, and as with all things that are deified, the haters are not far behind.
Where Do Ramps Grow?
The grow in the Eastern part of the US. Up and down the east coast, all the way to Minnesota and Missouri. Canada and North Carolina kind of border the part of the country where ramps can be found.
How Do You Harvest or Pick Ramps?
Once you found out where they grow, you’re most of the way there. They tend to grow near wet areas, rivers, marshes and such, near deciduous trees. Don’t be tempted to try and pull one out of the ground—you really need to dig around the root and then ease it out of the ground. This is easier near the source of water where the earth tends to be looser, or after a rain. But if you try and tug it out, you will likely break it and leave the root in the ground. Some say—ok, that replenishes for the next year, but I think harvest responsibly and get the whole shebang out of the ground.
Ramp over harvesting threatens to be a problem, so if you are lucky enough to find them, don’t clean out the whole patch—leaves some bulbs behind so they can re-propagate. I personally only take about 5%, probably only about 3%, of what the land near me offers, and every year there are more and more and more.
Some people advocate for only picking the leaves of the ramps and leaving the roots in the earth. In my experience the ramps have increased year after year, so I stick to my harvesting of the whole ramp, but taking only a small amount of what’s growing.
What Do Ramps Look Like?
They look somewhat like scallions, but have nice broad and long green leaves on top of slim white stalks (sometimes with a bit of purple).
What Do Ramps Taste Like?
They are more potent than leeks and scallions, with a definite garlicky flavor.
Ramps are essentially wild scallions, wonderful harbingers of spring and learning how to find them and then seeing all the things you can make with them is very exciting.Tweet This
How to Cook Ramps
Ramps can be roasted, grilled, sautéed, and also used raw, in dishes like salads or pesto. They can be used in risottos and other rice dishes, sauces, pastas and potato dishes, eggs, and on top of crostini, just for a few examples. Use both the white bulbs and the green leaves (the leaves are milder in flavor).
Their flavor is very strong when uncooked, so use judiciously. They can be prepared whole or sliced or chopped, similarly to scallions or leeks, or really any member of the onions family.
Ramp Recipes to Make This Spring
If you are familiar with ramps, and looking for ways to make these singular onions part of your cooking world, please, try these recipes:
If you saw this on a menu, you’d order it, right?