Indisputable evidence that it is, indeed, April.
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. 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 “ramp feeds”) abound. Ramps have a notorious reputation for their strong smell, which is a bit over-rated, depending on your sensitivities. Ramps are akin to a particularly strong onion or garlic–and if you like onion and garlic, you’ll love this stinky April delight!
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 now! 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. For the intrepid among you, find your own ramps in the woods! 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.
I was gifted with a large freshly-dug batch this weekend and we promptly consumed a helping the next morning with ham and beans, eggs, and fried potatoes. Here is the imaginary plate I’m sharing with you.
You’ll need a side of cornbread with that!
Once I’d cleaned the rest of them–it was a large bag–I set some aside in the refrigerator to use fresh in the next week or so. With the remaining ramps, I made ramp-infused oil to extend our ramp pleasure for months. In this post, I’ll share how to make ramp-infused oil. To find other delicious and easy ways to enjoy ramps, how to clean ramps, and other handy ramps info, check out my Ramps 101 post.
Ramp-infused olive oil is a great way to preserve the April ramps bounty into the year. Why must we only have ramps in April?!
To make ramps-infused olive oil, clean the ramps first, of course. (This is not the fun part.) Then blanch them–boil a large pot of water, drop ramps (greens, stems, bulbs and all) by batches into the water for 1 minute then remove immediately to a cold bowl of water. Set the ramps out on paper towels to dry. At this point, your ramps will look a bit wilty.
Place ramps in a food processor along with a little bit of olive oil (this isn’t an exact science) and pulse–make it very fine, or not so fine, whatever you want. I like mine not overly fine. You could add salt, pepper, and other seasonings if you like. I prefer to season later, when I’m using it.
For the next step, you can use ice cube trays if you like (then pop them out when frozen), but I prefer 2 ounce condiment containers. Place a little bit of additional olive oil in the bottom of each container then add a heaping tablespoon of processed ramps in oil.
Put lids on and place on a freezer shelf until frozen. After frozen, you can put the containers in a large gallon-size freezer bag. (They’re not going to spill at that point.) Take out a container at a time as needed, let thaw, then add to a pan of potatoes while frying–just as if using fresh ramps. But don’t limit yourself to that! Use as pesto for pasta, add to soups, stews, sauces, casseroles, meats, vegetables, the list of possibilities just goes on and on! These containers are tiny, but the ramp flavor is actually very concentrated, so just one container will pack a punch.
I made a couple dozen of these stinky babies and am looking forward to enjoying ramps for months!