You know it’s finally Spring when those bright yellow daffodils start poppin’ up everywhere. But if you’re from Appalachia, there’s another sign of Springtime to keep an eye out for: ramps.
A member of the onion family, ramps are more or less a wild chive. Some areas have their own name for these perfectly pungent plants: wild onion, wild garlic, bugram, ramsons, the list goes on. In areas where black bears live, they are sometimes called ’bear leeks’ due to the animals love of the garlicky bulbs. As a matter of fact, scientists observing bears digging up large patches to get to the bulbs is the reason the scientific name for ramps is “Allium ursinum”, with “ursa” being Latin for “bear”.
People tend to have a love-hate relationship with ramps; they’re an acquired taste because the intense garlic odor seemingly overpowers the other sweet smells of Spring’s freshness. However, those who love ramps really love them; to them, nothing smells better than an April filled with the heady aroma. Some folks are so fanatical they have ramps tattooed on their bodies! Just like anchovies on pizza, it’s either “yuck” or “yum”!
Although ramps have been part of many peoples diet since the Mesolithic Age (more than 3,000 years ago), the popularity of ramps has increased dramatically in the past twenty-five years. Many chefs and restaurateurs are obsessed with the pungent plant. Some of New York’s finest restaurants have ramps and dishes using ramps as the predominate Spring menu item!
Every part of the plant is edible. The leaves are used in salads, boiled as greens, for adding flavor to soups and even as a substitute for basil in a pesto-like sauce. The stems can be used in place of chives on baked potatoes and as a bit of color on may pasta dishes. The bulbs work in any dish that would call for onions or garlic. Even the flowers are edible!
In almost every Southern state and all throughout Appalachia, ramp festivals and public dinners are an every Spring event. Hundreds of thousands of folks in Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Georgia flock to these events. They feature entertainment, especially live music and crafts, and they are all family friendly. So, if you want to really experience this special plant, we suggest you make a date to attend one of the many ramp festivals taking place in April and May throughout the South. Check our calendar of events for the festival nearest you or as a good excuse to visit an area new to you and your family!
By the way, don’t pass up the chance to taste ramp ice cream!