Every spring, people all over the United States get serious cases of ramp envy. And that’s because the wild onion gets all sorts of attention from big city Northeast chefs who use the pungent produce in everything from pesto to tarts.
You see, ramps are hard to come by in most of the country. They are mythic to most of us, just like fiddleheads and fresh morel mushrooms. Mostly, they are harvested in the wild, which makes them even more coveted.
Ramps, sometimes called wild leeks or spring onions, grow in moist woodland areas from Canada down to South Carolina. For years, before New York foodies discovered the pungent bulbs, they were the toast of the Appalachian region, where numerous festivals are held in their honor. Richwood, Va., celebrates its 77th ramps festival on April 18, 2015. (More information at richwooders.com.)
After a long, cold winter, the sight of ramps pushing up from the ground signals the glorious spring. They emerge in March and by June, the season is finished.
They look more like mini-leeks but rather than tough stalks, they have a leafy top, which is also edible. Most preparations call for cooking ramps because they are so strongly flavored. Unlike many spring or immature versions of vegetables, they are not mild or delicate. Eaten raw, they taste like garlic.
For those of us who live far away from ramps country, a substitute mixture of scallions and shallots will suffice. If you do live where ramps are harvested, rejoice. The rest of us will just have to plan a spring road trip.