Friends Drift Inn – Gardening and Foraging
Appalachia’s Wild Leeks
Last spring, I had no idea what a ramp was. It was a funny story. That was then, this is now.
The wild leek, Allium tricoccum, is my favorite stinky. Ramps are oniony, kinda garlic like with a whiff of locker room gym socks. Pungent, with a little bit of a peppery bite, these spring harbingers are wildly coveted by hillbilly aficionados and trendy chefs.
Fry them up, add them to soups or pickle them….and you too will smell a little rank. The thing is you just will not care once the wild harvest parades across your palate. You may just become a ramp addict; and believe me you will refuse rehab. Giggles
I endure the smelly situation all in the name of food writing.
Ramps generally grow wild. My sources insist ramps prefer a north slope. The wild leeks grow in moderately dry soil under hardwood trees. Ramps like a forest understory, hiding in dappled sunlight, tightly grouped like great-grandma’s long forgotten daffodils.
The leaves are broad, and a deep green. The stems vary, some markedly streaked with a burgundy, others with just a hint of maroon. The bulbs, once cleaned, are snowy white. When in doubt, use your olfactory. If it stinks, you got the right stuff.
“Ransom” what mountain folks sometimes call ramps are dug with a short handled mattock, gingerly breaking the ground and easing the bulbs from the soil.
Old timers here say it is best to harvest the ramps as if you were thinning them out; digging a few here and a few there leaving enough to produce seeds of replenishment. Ramps are harvested in my area from mid-April to just after Derby Day in May.
Only dig what you need, the shelf life is short perhaps three days under refrigeration.
Some folks grow ramps commercially. Along about February several internet retailers offer up bulbs for planting. Seeds are also available; like onion seeds it takes about eighteen months to get a harvest from seed grown crops.
Next year, I think I will order a fair amount of bulbs, with a couple packs of seed just to fill in. We are in the process of clearing a spot for permanent ramp beds, piling up lots of leaves for mulch.
In the meantime, I am thankful for cryptic messages on facebook and quirky friends who show up on the barn porch bearing bundles of stinking ramps. My lips are smacking; my pores are oozing. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing some ramp recipe ideas on the blog and this morning on East Kentucky Broadcasting.
Come on back real soon. Check out the Southern Foodways Alliance’s film, Cured, by Joe York which features Alan Benton cooking up ramps. Video link.
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