What are Ramps?
As seasons change, our choices for fresh produce also shift, and up pop vegetables and fruits with such limited availability that menus everywhere seem to put the spotlight on these short-timers. Such is the case in the springtime, when the wide, flat leaves of allium tricoccum or ramps make their presence known to food foragers as early harbingers of warmer days. Also called spring onion, ramson, wild leek, wood leek and wild garlic, these wild onions are not cultivated, but rather foraged from shaded, woody areas. Ramp foragers know not to pick all the greens in a patch, as that will mean the ramps won’t return to the same spot next year.
Ramps are native to the Appalachian mountain region in eastern North America, usually found growing in patches in rich, moist, deciduous forests from Canada to North Carolina and Tennessee. As one of the first plants to emerge at the end of winter in these areas, ramps are considered the first “greens” of spring. In folklore, ramps are also thought of as a tonic because they provided necessary vitamins and minerals after long winter months without access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
What is it about the diminutive ramp that has created such a loyal following? Perhaps it is the versatility of these greens - with the flavor a mixture of garlic and green onions, ramps can be used in a wide range of dishes, and the whole plant, from bulb to leaf, can be eaten. Perhaps it is the brief time period in which they make an appearance, gone from markets by the time temperatures start to indicate summer heat, that make ramps a favorite among those of us whose menus are based on seasonal availability. Whatever your reason may be, make sure you partake before they are gone until next year.
Special thanks to Wild West Virginia Ramps for permission to use their image.