Apr 19, 2016
Smoky Mountain Ramp Salad
You didn’t think I’d let ramp season sneak by without sharing a recipe for them, did you?? Ramps! These wild onions have become quite the rage in the culinary world. Seriously, ramp fever is spreading like an epidemic! What are these little guys anyway and what makes them so special?
The name “ramp” comes from its similarity to an English plant called the “ransom” (Allium ursinus) which was called “ramson” in earlier times. They’re not leeks, nor are they scallions, nor are they exactly shallots. They are sometimes called wild leeks or spring onions and look like scallions with widening, flat leaves at the top, but they’re smaller and more delicate. They taste stronger than a leek, which generally has a mild onion flavor, and are more pungently garlicky than a scallion. And if you eat a lot of them… well, let’s just say it would be safe to stay home for a few days and surround yourself only with fellow ramp-eaters! 🙂
Ramps only grow in the wild and in forested areas in the eastern US and Canada. To my knowledge they are not grown commercially. They have been around and enjoyed for centuries. Ramps were foraged by Cherokees for hundreds of years, and they’ve been a staple spring ingredient in Appalachian kitchens for decades. Their high vitamin content and blood-cleansing properties meant that the ramps were highly prized by the American Indians for their nutritional value as well. The Chippewa decocted the root to induce vomiting, while the Cherokee consumed the ramp to treat colds and made a juice from the plant to treat earaches. A tonic of the plant was used by the Iroquois to treat intestinal worms.
But why all the frenzy about these cousins of the onion? Ramps are scarce. The wild plants grow very slowly, taking up to four years to flower and reproduce. You can’t walk into a grocery store in the middle of November and pick up a bunch. Ramps are in season for only a few weeks in the spring and are very limited in supply. So I imagine it’s a supply and demand thing that creates all of the flurry when they pop up their beautiful green leaves in the spring.
I am so lucky to live in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina where ramps grow plentifully so they are abundant and inexpensive at local farm stands and farmers markets when they’re in season. AND, we planted some in our woods last spring in the hopes that they would come back and propagate. Lo and behold, they did! Of course, we will not pick any this year and maybe not even next year. I want them to really take hold and spread out!
So there you have it. A crash course on ramps! Moving on to today’s recipe. It’s VERY simple. If you’re fortunate enough to get your hands on some of these babies, whip up a batch of this salad, or you can simply roast them and eat them as is. They have such a wonderful, deep, round flavor. I’m sure they will become a favorite of yours and your family’s, too! You might even find yourself fighting over them!