An Ode to Ramps
To the chagrin of many in the area, ramps, one of the first wild greens to appear in early spring, don’t grow in Northeast Florida. But that hasn’t dampened Chef Ryan Randolph’s enthusiasm for these short-lived bulb-forming perennials. In fact, according to his former team at Kitchen on San Marco, the chef had a bad case of the ramps - and that's a good thing! They teased him by calling him Chef Ramp-dolph, and he was okay with that. He loves ramps.
“Ramps remind me of being young, when the winter season was changing to springtime; they always taste like spring to me. They are one of the first greens that come up, like asparagus and fiddlehead ferns. I grew up on a dairy farm, and we knew when we started to see the leaves of ramps, to smell them in the pastures, we had to get out and pick them before the cows ate them. Otherwise the milk would spoil,” said the chef. “Back home in East Tennessee, we would have a Ramps festival, (we called it the Stink Fest), and there were all sorts of common ailments that would be cured by ramps, like stomach aches and fevers.”
Sourcing ramps from farmers and foragers in Tennessee and Georgia, Randolph hopes to include the spring vegetable on the menu during one of the Farmers Table dinners at Congaree and Penn Farm, where he now works. His approach to ramps is total utilization, taking advantage of the broad, smooth, light green leaves as well as the bulb itself. “I like to use ramps in ways that extend the season. I’ll make pesto with the greens, and then freeze it. And I pickle the bulbs," said the chef. “That way I can have the taste of spring throughout the year.”
Want to sample some of Chef Ryan's seasonal offerings? Check out the Farmers Table dinner series at Congaree and Penn.