April prime time for ramps
A three-man team of hunters scoured steep mountain slopes near Slaty Fork on Thursday, in search of the elusive Allium tricoccum. The species is known to hide under leaves in the early spring and give off a pungent odor when captured. The hunters successfully captured several Alliums and carried their quarry home in a laundry basket.
Of course, Allium tricoccum is the beloved ramp.
Hundreds of harvesters take to the vertical terrain of Pocahontas County in early spring to collect the delicacy, a cousin of both garlic (Allium sativum) and onions (Allium cepa). Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are popular in the Appalachian Mountains and considered a delicacy in Europe and Canada.
Visitors and recent arrivals to the county may have eaten ramps, but never gone ramp hunting. Ramps are easy to find if you know where to look and what the leaves look like. Any reason to get into the woods is a good reason, and ramp hunting in springtime is a lot of fun, especially with friends. But, be prepared to negotiate steep hillsides and do some digging to get the prized little bulbs into your sack.
Opinions vary on when ramps should be harvested but connoisseurs say the green leaves should not be too high above the ground to get a ramp with the best flavor. Late March through early April is prime time for ramp harvesting, but there is some flexibility, due to the varied terrain. Ramps at higher altitudes can be harvested later in the season and still have good flavor.
Your supplies should include a ramp hoe, a sack or basket to carry the ramps, a little bit of food and a canteen of water. Pick up a three-prong ramp hoe at a local hardware store. It works much better than anything else and is also helpful in the garden.
Ramps like areas that are shady and moist, often near rivers and streams. They frequently grow on the north side of mountains in small clumps. Ramps look like lily-of-the-valley sprouts from above, with beautiful, wide green leaves, but underground, they look like scallions and have a strong garlic smell. Ramps grow in clumps that can be small or large. When you dig up a clump, leave some of the bulbs behind to regenerate the crop for next spring.
Rules for digging ramps on the Monongahela National Forest are very generous. You can pick all the ramps you want, for personal use, except in designated wilderness areas. Remember - that's personal - not commercial use. People harvesting ramps for sale on the national forest will likely ruin it for us all, by over-picking. Soon, we might need a permit to harvest ramps in the National Forest, and that would be a shame. If everybody follows the rules, that won't happen.
Depending on where you're harvesting -- in a couple hours, you ought to have a couple pounds of ramps. That's enough for several recipes because the ramps have plenty of flavor. There should be a stream near to where the ramps are growing. Take the ramps to the stream and rinse off most of the mud before you take them home.
Both the leaves and bulbs are edible. Ramps are generally chopped up, bulbs and leaves together, and added to recipes. Local gourmet Louise Barnisky provided several good ramp recipes and some really good ramp stories, too.
Growing up in Duo, Louise and her siblings sold ramps and blackberries to make money to buy school books. They sold ramps for two dollars a bushel and blackberries for 40 cents a gallon.
Barnisky remembers the first ramp dinner in Marlinton. The Lions Club had requested the use of the Marlinton Elementary School cafeteria for several years for a ramp dinner, but had been refused because of fears that the aroma would linger. But the school finally consented to have a ramp dinner, where 40 bushels of ramps were consumed and the club raised an amazing $1,700, which went toward construction of a music building for the school.
The gourmet said her favorite ramp recipe was wilted ramp salad. Take some small, tender ramps with leaves and place them in a metal bowl. Heat up some bacon grease, vinegar, a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar and some crumbled bacon bits in a frying pan. Pour the hot mixture over the salad and place the hot pan over the bowl to make sure the ramps are wilted good.
Here are some more good ramp recipes. Happy hunting and bon appetit!
RAMP DIP (Annette Graham)
1 pint Sour Cream
2 - 8 oz Cream Cheese
1 - 16 oz Velveeta Cheese
1 T. Horseradish
2 -10 Drops Hot Sauce
15-20 Ramps (bottoms/tops) chopped fine
-- Microwave Velveeta and cream cheese to melt, stirring every 30 seconds. Stir in remaining ingredients. Refrigerate. Serve with tortilla chips or crackers.
RAMP BREAKFAST WEDGES
4 cups grated potatoes
2 cups chopped ramps
1 cup crumbled fried bacon
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
-- Fry grated potatoes until done in 10-inch skillet. Pat down and slightly up sides of skillet. Saute ramps and put half on top of potatoes. Scramble eggs and pour on top of potatoes and ramps. Cover and cook (do not stir) on low heat until eggs are almost done. Top with crumbled bacon, rest of ramps and mozzarella cheese. Cover and continue to cook until eggs are done and cheese is melted. Cut into wedges like pie and serve.
FRIED RAMPS (Mountain Cookin' Cookbook)
-- By comparison, the odor of ramps makes garlic smell like Chanel No. 5. After one whiff of ramps, you'll either love them, or light out for the flatlands. Parboil ramps three minutes, drain and boil in new water until tender. Drain and fry in butter or bacon drippings. Add slightly beaten eggs, or potatoes, salt and pepper to taste.
RAMP CASSEROLE (Julie McNabb - from Barry Sharp's Cookbook)
1 lb. pork sausage
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 cups milk
30 or more ramps
2 medium potatoes
Salt to taste
-- Mix eggs and milk together, set aside. Fry sausage. Slice potatoes thin. Layer potatoes, sausage and ramps in casserole dish. Pour eggs and milk mixture over layers. Bake at 350 degrees until potatoes are done. Halfway through the baking, top with grated cheddar cheese.
RAMP PIE (from Barry Sharp's Cookbook)
1 roll Ritz crackers, crushed
-- Crumble the Ritz crackers in a pie pan. Melt enough butter to sprinkle over crumbs. Dice enough potatoes, ramps and cheese to fill pan. Sprinkle more crumbled crackers on top of pie and bake 45 minutes to one hour at 350 degrees.
RAMPS GRATIN (Linda Sharp - from Barry Sharp's Cookbook)
2 Tbsp butter or margarine, divided
1/2 cup Gruyere or Swiss cheese, shredded
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
3/4 lb. washed and sliced ramps
2/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
-- In skillet melt one Tbsp butter, add bread crumbs and toast, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden. Remove to plate to cool, then toss with cheese, set aside. Melt remaining butter, add ramps and cook till limp. Season to taste. Add cream and cook one minute longer. Transfer to small greased baking dish, sprinkle top with bread crumb mixture. Bake at 350 degrees 15 minutes or until hot and crumbs are lightly browned. Serve warm.