Ramps… What are they? What do they do? How do you eat them? Crazy folklore included.
Here is my breakdown on this fine plant with a local recipe because you never know when you are going to be in the mountains as Spring truly emerges and want to expand your diet.
First things first. Ramps smell like garlic, onions, and leeks all mixed together and amplified by 100x! If you have a significant other, they say you both have to eat them together or you won’t be able to stand one another. They are a little spicy raw and sweet when cooked. We were told to only use the stalk but you can use the leafy greens as well. There are about as many recipes conjured up here as there are folds in these mountains, and the people are fierce about there preferred ‘right’ way. Our neighbors literally started shouting at each other about whether you needed 3 eggs or 5 eggs per bag while discussing the finer points of cooking ramps.
In our little corner of the world it is believed that ramps have a slight opiate effect as well and do the following three things: They make you want to sleep. They make you want to have sex. They also give you really bad gas. Not the best mix of results if you ask me but I can at least understand the latter issue if they stay true to their recipe (which involves about a full pound of ramps.)
No, ramps are simply the first wild onion to pop their sprouts out from the frosted ground to announce Spring and the area celebrates their return. The Native Americans used them to cure the ailments of Winter, but really they are just a very welcome green food when little has been consumed over Winter.
Chicago was actually named from this plant because of a dense growth near Lake Michigan. “The plant, called shikaakwa (chicagou) in the language of local native tribes, was once thought to be Allium cernuum, the nodding wild onion, but research in the early 1990s showed the correct plant was the ramp.” Wikipedia Ramps
Here is my culinary tribute to the ramp.
- First step is gathering the ramps. I did not have the pleasure of this since my neighbor graciously gave us a grocery bag full two Sundays ago. They grow in clusters in the wild and it actually takes the plant 5-7 years to produce seed. It is a very slow grower, like ginseng. This is what they call a honey-hole. (Photo Credit: http://www.simplebites.net)
- Step Two is cleaning the ramps. It was told to us to use the entire bag and 3 eggs to make a legitimate meal but after starting to clean the very rich and wet soil off each individual ramp (there were hundreds), we decided to short the recipe quite a bit. Who knew if what the locals said was true too about their power! I just wanted to see what they tasted like and eating an entire grocery bag full of onions just didn’t sound like a great idea. So we cleaned a fairly decent amount and set about the next step. Here are our ramps in prep stages with the far right being the end product.
- Step Three is pretty basic. Grab your large cast iron skillet and heat up about 2 tablespoons of bacon fat. Yes, you heard right, we’re using bacon fat. The centerpiece of Appalachia! Heat on medium until you know it’s sizzling, then dump your diced ramps into the pan. Stir evenly until soft and sweet. The mix reduces down a bit over time. Once you have your ramps at the right texture, add 3 eggs scrambled and stir. You’re pretty much making a scrambled omelet of sorts.
- Once your eggs have thoroughly cooked, pour entire pan into a bowl for seasoning. Add salt and pepper and dish out to everyone in the house. (We didn’t this time, but adding some sriracha or another hot sauce would be very tasty.) We did adjust the recipe to add diced tomatoes into the mix because I mean really, who doesn’t like tomatoes?!? Plus some French bread from the local Ingles Market.
So there you have it. A meal fit for a King & Queen in the mountains made from a local sources. No gaseous issues and no other side effects of note except that Lori REALLY took a liking to them and ate them for several days! We think she needed more greens this past Winter.
So if you are ever in the mountains and see a sign for ramps, stop for a chat and pick up a bag. They aren’t very expensive and very easy to prepare. Just keep refrigerated until prep time and you are good to go. Added bonus… kids love them too!