You know it’s springtime in Appalachia when they’re selling ramps on the side of the road! If you don’t know what ramps are, they’re wild leeks native to the Appalachian Mountain region. West Virginia is the ramps capitol of the world (a claim to fame!). People dig them up in the rich, dark woodland soil, sell them on the side of the road out of pickup trucks, and ramps festivals and ramps community dinners (or feeds!) abound. Ramps are one of those things I thought so weird when I first moved here–and I was almost afraid of them. Ramps have a notorious reputation for their strong smell, which I think is over-rated. Ramps are akin to a particularly strong onion or garlic–and if you like onion and garlic, you’ll love ramps! Every year my cousin, who is not a ramps lover himself, buys a mess of ramps off a roadside stand and brings them to me because he knows I love them and that I practically never go into town if I can help it, hermit that I am. I was thrilled, as usual, when he called to tell me he had my ramps! He left them for me on the old farmhouse porch. I arrived to pick up Princess from the bus, and there was Princess and Georgia, waiting for me, all atwitter, holding brown paper lunch sacks filled with my lovely, stinky April delight.
“Guess what this is!” they cried.
“Ramps!” I said. (They were slightly downcast at the spoiling of their surprise. Next year when my cousin calls to tell me he just bought me some ramps, I’ll pretend I don’t know when I get there.) Then I bounced around and told them how excited I was and they felt better.
All parts of wild ramps are edible, and while they’re most traditionally served fried in bacon fat with eggs and/or potatoes and served with pinto beans and cornbread, ramps can be used in most any dish similar to how you would use onion and garlic. If you live in the Appalachian region, you’ll have no trouble finding them for sale at roadside stands. Look for ramps starting around mid-April. In parts of the country where they’re not readily available from the wild, you can sometimes find them in farmers markets or specialty produce stores. You can even buy them online in season (though they’re a bit pricey that way as ramps have become something of a “gourmet” item thanks to chefs like Alton Brown spreading the ramp love on TV). For the intrepid among you, find your own ramps! Ramps have broad, smooth leaves with purple stems and small white bulbs just under the surface of the soil. Search dark, woody areas near hillsides and streams–often in the same places you might find morels. (See Finding and Growing Ramps.)
How to Prepare Ramps:
Wash the leaves and bulbs in cold water, rinsing well. Lay out to dry thoroughly. To use, cut off the rooty ends from the bulbs, then separate the white parts of the ramps from the leafy greens. Slice the white parts in sections depending on your recipe. The leafy greens can be left whole or chopped, also depending on how you plan to use them. Ramps can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer for months or the refrigerator for a week or so if you don’t intend to use them immediately.
But of course you want to start using them immediately! How can you resist? Here’s how.
How to Make Fried Ramps with Potatoes and Eggs:
6 slices peppered bacon, cooked and chopped, bacon fat reserved
1 cup ramps, white parts and leaves, chopped coarsely
2-3 medium size potatoes, peeled and slivered
5 large eggs
salt, pepper, and chives
shredded cheese (optional)
Cook bacon in a large frying pan, remove, drain, and chop; set aside. Using the same pan with the reserved bacon fat, fry ramps and potatoes over low heat, covered, till potatoes are tender. Crack eggs over the ramps/potatoes mixture and fry, covered, till eggs are done to your liking. Sprinkle on some shredded Cheddar or Swiss–or not, depending on your preference. Season with salt, pepper, and chives to taste. Remove each egg with its ramps/potato bed onto serving plates; top with chopped bacon. Pass the pinto beans and cornbread! (Serves 5–increase or decrease recipe according to your needs.)
Now for something a little less traditonal! This is soooo good.
How to Make Ramps and Tomato Bruschetta:
one loaf of Hot, Crusty French Bread
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup ramps, white parts and leaves, chopped finely
3-4 fresh tomatoes, depending on size, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried basil
salt and pepper
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Cut french bread in one-inch slices and place on large baking sheet. Sautee ramps, white parts and leaves, in olive oil in a large frying pan on medium-high for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add tomatoes, basil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Combine well; spoon mixture onto french bread slices and top with Parmesan. Broil for a few minutes, till cheese melts and edges of bread slices crisp. Serve as an appetizer, snack, or accompaniment to dinner.
And now for the quickest, easiest way to fix ramps, try this surprisingly flavorful quick dish–How to Make Sauteed Ramps and Bacon Salad:
6 slices peppered bacon, cooked, drained, crumbled, bacon fat reserved
1/3 cup ramps, white parts, chopped coarsely
2 cups ramps, leafy greens, chopped coarsely
2 tomatoes, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Cook bacon in a large frying pan, remove, drain, and crumble; set aside. Using the same pan with the reserved bacon fat, fry ramps over medium heat for about 5 minutes or till tender. Divide leafy greens onto salad plates and spoon hot ramps with bacon liquid immediately onto the leaves to wilt them slightly. Toss gently; add tomatoes, season with salt and pepper to taste, and crumble bacon on top. Serves 4 as side salads or 2 as a meal with your favorite bread. (For a vegetarian alternative, omit bacon and use olive oil.)
If you’re a ramps lover, let me know your favorite way to fix ramps! And if you’ve never tried them, are you going to? Inquiring minds want to know!
Find all of these recipes at Farm Bell Recipes for the handy print pages and to save them to your recipe box:
How to Prepare Ramps
Fried Ramps with Potatoes and Eggs
Ramps and Tomato Bruschetta
Sauteed Ramps and Bacon Salad