Ramps are leeks that grow in the wild. They are very difficult to cultivate, which is part of their appeal and mystique (think truffles). Ramps are one of the first spring 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.
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. Some people go crazy for them, which means some people think they are overrated. To me, this whole discussion is a little silly. But every spring, many of us look forward to ramp season because these pungent little members of the onion family are only around for a short while. I’d rather leave the debating to others, and get to cooking them.
What Do Ramps Look Like?
They look somewhat like scallions, but with a more bulbous bottom. Ramps have nice broad and long green leaves on top of slim white stalks with a plump base. There is sometimes a bit of purple on the slim stalk above the bottom.
Where Do Ramps Grow?
Ramps grow in the Eastern part of the U.S., up and down the east coast, and then all the way west to Minnesota and Missouri. Canada and North Carolina kind of border the part of the country where ramps can be found. They tend to grow near wet areas, rivers, marshes, and such, near deciduous trees.
How Do You Harvest or Pick Ramps?
Once you found out where they grow, you’re most of the way there. Don’t be tempted to just try and pull one out of the ground. You really need to dig down around the root and then ease it out of the dirt. This is easier near a 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 the ramps for the next year, but I think of harvesting responsibly and getting 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 — leave some bulbs behind so they can re-propagate. I personally only take about 5% 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 harvesting the whole ramp but taking only a small amount of what’s growing.
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 risotto 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, similar to scallions or leeks, or really any member of the onions family.
7 Ramps Recipes to Make This Spring
So now we know more about ramps. And here are a bunch of recipes to put them to good use!