The ramp, sometimes called wild leek, is a wild onion native to North America. Though the bulb resembles that of a scallion, the beautiful flat, broad leaves set it apart. According to John Mariani, author of "The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink," the word ramp comes from "rams," or "ramson," an Elizabethan dialect rendering of the wild garlic.
Where Are They Grown
Ramps grow from South Carolina to Canada, and in many areas, they're considered a spring delicacy and even a reason for celebration.
West Virginia is well-known for their many festivals and events in celebration of the ramp. The flavor and odor of ramps are usually compared to a combination of onions and garlic, and the garlic odor is particularly strong. Strong enough, in fact, that even ramp-lovers will advise caution. If you sit down to a big meal of ramps, don't be surprised if people continue to keep their distance after a few days have passed!
Ways to Use Ramps
Cautions aside, ramps add wonderful and uniquely pungent flavor to soups, egg dishes, casseroles, rice dishes and potato dishes. Use them raw or cooked in any recipe calling for scallions or leeks, or cook them in a more traditional way. Try them mixed into scrambled eggs or fried potatoes. Since ramps aren't cultivated in the way leeks are, they're much easier to clean. Just cut off roots, rinse thoroughly, and scrub off any excess dirt on the bulbs.
Ramps aren't available for long, but you can chop and freeze them for cooked dishes.
The green tops are milder in flavor and are usually used along with the bulbs. I chop about half of the green leaves separately, air-dry them for a few hours then freeze them in an air-tight container for future use as a seasoning. They make a great substitute for green onions.
I usually see them at Whole Foods when they are in season, but if you can't find ramps in your area, they are available seasonally from the online market Earthy Delights.
If you're lucky enough to have fresh ramps in your area, try some of the recipes below.