Wild Ramps from West Virginia
Today we are getting a much-needed rain storm in Washington; up to two inches of rain is expected. Michael and I decided, due to the weather, to cancel our planned trip to the farmers' market. Instead, I decided to catch up on writing about a new vegetable we discovered at the market three weeks ago: ramps, or wild leeks, from West Virginia.
One of the vendors had a table piled high with bundles of these small white vegetables. We had never seen nor heard of them before. They looked like a plumper version of scallions, with wide leaves that resembled the foliage of lilies of the valley. The sign said they were grown in the wild and have a flavor that crosses between garlic and onions. They were the most unusual thing I saw at the market, so I wanted to give them a try. We bought one small bundle at the last-hour sale price of $2.00.
Back home, I went on the Internet to learn about ramps. Also called wild leeks, ramps grow in damp forests and are native to the Appalachian mountains. There are a couple of theories as to why they are called ramps; my favorite is that "the English folk name 'ransom' (son of Ram), referred to the plant's habit of appearing during the sign of Aries... on the zodiac calendar." Ramps are only available during a short period of time in the spring, and they're the subject of numerous festivals throughout Appalachia. I learned that the increasing popularity of ramps in recent years -- for festivals and as an ingredient sought by gourmet chefs -- has led to concerns about over-harvesting. (While eating local food seems to be all the rage right now, this opened my eyes and made me realize there can be negative consequences of the local food movement, too.) The U.S. Forest Service has created rules to help protect ramps in their natural habitat.
In Appalachia, ramps are most commonly fried with potatoes, bacon, and eggs, and so that is exactly how I tried them. More like onions than garlic, they were a little different than any onions I've ever tasted. Their flavor was notably more earthy than regular onions. I liked them. I'm glad I had the chance to try them, and I enjoyed learning something new about a wild, edible plant that grows in our own nearby West Virginia.