That Time of the Year

I was driving some cat food out to Animal Friends when I saw this on the side of the road, immediately did a U-turn, went back, and took a picture for all the ex-pat West Virginians out there:

Only in West by God Virginia. For those who have no clue what a ramp is, here is the wikipedia entry. I’ll let some of the commenters fill in their own personal ramps stories.






67 replies
  1. 1
    Incertus says:

    I’d never heard about these until a couple of weeks ago, and now they seem to be all over the place. They sound like super-aromatic leeks–is that about right?

    And in open-threadiness, the MPAA is again trying to sue the fire truck company after their house has burned to the ground. Go figure.

  2. 2
    Jane says:

    There’s a ramp festival in East Tennessee.

  3. 3
    donnah says:

    My mom’s a native West Virginian (Colcord, close to Whitesville, close to Beckley) and she remembers eating them occasionally when she was growing up. I remember reading about them in the Appalachian folk history books “Foxfire”, and when I asked some of my mom’s aunts about ramps, they said they cooked with them. Most often they fixed them with other food for added flavor, like with beans and potatoes.

  4. 4
    Ned R. says:

    Looks pretty badass, these ramps. I wonder how they would go well roasted and part of a vegetable stock prep…

  5. 5
    Cain says:

    Wow. So this is what normal folks eat instead of arugula huh?

    cain

  6. 6
    Ronnie P says:

    We can get ramps up here in Western NY, but they’re kind of “boutique.”

  7. 7
    LD50 says:

    Ramps fried up with possum, them’s good eatin’!

  8. 8
    Justin K. says:

    Came across ramps at the Farmers’ Market in Madison, WI a while back, bought some on the recommendation of a N. Carolinian friend. Sauteed them in olive oil with crimini mushrooms, red pepper flakes, and spinach. Tossed with whole wheat fettucini. A great lunch.

  9. 9
    JenJen says:

    Took a picture?! Don’t tell me you didn’t buy any road-leeks. Blasphemy!! Mmm, the potato soup I could be making right now if I had me some ramps…

    @Cain:

    Wow. So this is what normal folks real Americans eat instead of arugula huh?

    Fixed!

  10. 10
    Frank Sobotka says:

    How exactly do you cut/prepare them? Do you chop them up like green onions and ditch the bulb, or is the bulb the best part?

    I’m from Connecticut and have never seen these.

  11. 11
    BCHS 1980 says:

    Never had ’em back in Braxton, but there were certainly enough ramp dinners around at this time of year growing up. Now I could do it; I like most of the onion/leek family and my wife is olfactorily impaired. :) Shame I’m in Tampa now.

    My favorite spring treat in central WV was morels, which were basically the only mushroom distinctive enough to pick and not die from. My grandmother called them “molly-moochers”. My grandparents were of the last true Foxfire generation. Heck, she actually used poke to refer to a bag; for the non-hillbillies out there, think “pig in a poke.”

  12. 12
    Joe says:

    I love this blog. Never commented but I was just wondering where I could find ramps in Los Angeles, knowing that no one would possibly know what I’m talking about. And then I saw this. Coincidence?

  13. 13
    EdTheRed says:

    I bought a small bunch at the Dupont farmers’ market in DC last Sunday. I’d tell you how much I paid, but I really don’t need every West Virginian with an internet connection laughing at me.

    @Frank Sobotka: you can use the whole thing…treat the white part like you would garlic or shallots (you can sub it in for garlic, shallots, leeks, or onions)…if you’re sauteeing them, you don’t need to add the greens until the end – just throw ’em in long enough to wilt them.

  14. 14
    Scott H says:

    Ramps on a sammich. Home-baked bread. Good eats.

    However, the uninitiated should approach with caution — and, if one person is having ramps, everybody has to have ramps.

  15. 15

    Noah Adams tells a nice story about doing an NPR feature about ramps in the early days of All Things Considered in his book All Things Considered.

  16. 16
    Andy K says:

    How do these compare to green onions/scallions?

  17. 17
    Violet says:

    Ramps! Oh, I miss West Virginia. Love them and if they’re growing in the grass, the air smells onion-y when you cut the lawn.

  18. 18
    gizmo says:

    Ramps? Maybe you could get high from smoking them. They should be illegal.

  19. 19
    Bill H says:

    if one person is having ramps, everybody has to have ramps.

    Oh, indeed.

  20. 20
    Persia says:

    We just call them wild leeks in the Northeast, and yes, people do eat them, but I think only in the boonies. Fortunately I live in the boonies.

  21. 21
    wmd says:

    I ate ramps as a young adult in southern Indiana. They’ve got a stronger taste than onion, I’d call it hotter, and there’s some garlicy flavor. It’s more like the hotness of a tiger day lily flower. I used most all of the plant – the bulbs and the leaves. Use it anywhere you’d use garlic or onion.

  22. 22
    Ash Can says:

    Funny you should mention this — I happen to be eating a salad with chopped-up ramps (gathered by my brother-in-law in a nearby forest preserve) in it right at this very moment.

  23. 23
    Cat Lady says:

    Obama threaded the needle yet again:

    http://www.amconmag.com/lariso.....ompromise/

    I just keep imagining either McCain, Palin or W ever having any freakin’ clue about this important symbolic stuff, and the answer is…. no.

    Words are powerful things. Too bad the wingtards entire vocabulary consists of “no”, “9/11” and “soc i a lis m”. Thanks for playing, clowns.

  24. 24
    geg6 says:

    Mmmmm…ramps. I have a great cookbook by Tom Colicchio, “Think Like a Chef.”. In a section of it called “Trios,” he takes three ingredients and then gives instructions for progressive variations on them. I particularly love the dishes in the Trio of ramps, morels, and asparagus. Especially the pan-roasted poussin with those lovely spring morsels of goodness. Hmmm…sounds like an excellent idea for dinner tonight while watching “Frost/Nixon.”

  25. 25
    Tymannosourus Rex says:

    Soooooo, no NFL Draft open thread?

    I know your precious Yinzers don’t pick til like 9 pm, Cole, but there are other teams out there, you know?

  26. 26
    Laura Clawson says:

    Ok, I heard this story once second-hand. My friend claimed his friend had actually witnessed it, but for all I know it’s one of those urban legends (rural legends?) everyone knows someone who knows someone who witnessed.

    Anyway, goes like this: Kid in an area of West Virginia where they breastfeed pretty late goes up to his mother, lifts her shirt, and nurses for a minute. Turns away in disgust and yells “pa! ma’s been eating ramps again!!!”

  27. 27
    mortimer says:

    WMD hit their flavor on the nose.

    A ramp story – as a buckeye who is a weekend warrior raft guide in West by God Virginia, one of the local guide types wanted to share his love of ramps with me. I ate a bulb, he ate a bulb, and I thought wow, these are delicious…

    I didn’t know that only true wildmen and women eat them raw. Matter of fact, he’s the only person I’ve ever heard of who eats them raw.

    I was eating solid food again in a week or so…

  28. 28
    Kevin K. says:

    Came across ramps at the Farmers’ Market in Madison, WI a while back

    Just saw them at a stand at a Farmers Market here in Brooklyn this morning. That’s all they were selling. Ramps.

  29. 29
    omen says:

    I was driving some cat food out to Animal Friends

    aww…

  30. 30
    omen says:

    @mortimer:

    didn’t know that only true wildmen and women eat them raw. Matter of fact, he’s the only person I’ve ever heard of who eats them raw. I was eating solid food again in a week or so…

    a wv paper mentioned ramps when they were covering obama campaigning there. i asked what they were. a native offered they were like wild onions and counseled caution about them because they “stayed with you.”

    i didn’t know what “stayed with you” meant. is that gas?

  31. 31
    geg6 says:

    Omen: He meant like garlic or super strong onions will stay with you. You’ll burp them, your breath will reek of them, and if you eat enough of them, your pores will release their odor. But that is easily minimized by cooking them.

  32. 32
    JoyousMN says:

    Ramps! mmmm….

    I found them in my woods 3-4 years back while hunting for morels. I found a clump of something that smelled like onions and had bulbs on the end. I took a tiny taste and it tasted like onions too. I went online and that’s when I discovered what they were. We’ve been eating them ever since.

    Unfortunately there aren’t very many in our woods, so I have to limit how many I take to make sure there will be some next year.

    Last year we camped out in Wisconsin over Memorial Day and the place was COVERED with them. I sauteed them with the morels I brought…were they ever good!

    I’m temped to go back to that park, dig some up and transplant them here to help increase my stock.

  33. 33

    We went hiking in the Cranberry Wilderness and being idiots, we decided to go off trail. A friend from out west eventually asked what the hell that smell was. We were, of course, stomping up a hillside covered in ramps.

    I’ve also found them around Great Falls.

    Just got back from hunting morels. Also.

    (I like the little wiggle lines above the word RAMPS on the sign. I guess that’s to indicate the smell.)

  34. 34
    Martin says:

    John needs to learn how to embed the banjo music when putting up posts like this.

  35. 35
    Ash Can says:

    @Martin: IMO, Frank Sinatra singing “My Kind of Town” would be more suitable for a post on ramps — after all, Chicago was named after the little darlin’s.

  36. 36
    2th&nayle says:

    Love this blog! Never know what you’ll learn here. We have wild onions and wild garlic here in Arkanstone, but I’d never heard of ‘ramps’. It is polk salad season here though. Poor man’s spinach! You won’t have to be told twice, to cook polk salad three times.

  37. 37
    omen says:

    @JoyousMN:

    mn! i’ve picked blueberries there.

  38. 38
    magisterludi says:

    There’s a ramp festival in Cosby TN that’s been running forever. Never been, but they say you can follow the aroma (or stench) to find it.

    I’d go to a rhubarb festival in a heart beat, tho. I love that stuff.

  39. 39
    Gus says:

    I have some in my back yard. They’re all the rage in some fancy restaurants in Minneapolis.

  40. 40
    Gemina13 says:

    Ramps! Oh, my God–Mom talks about these all the time. She was born in High Splint, KY, and we have relatives all over WVA as well as Harlan County.

    Mom’s mother died when she was 10, and Grandpa remarried a woman who made Cinderella’s stepmother look like Mother Teresa. She even treated her own kids like shit. After retiring from coal mining, Grandpa got a cow to keep the family in milk and butter. Mom and my aunts had to take the cow to pasture before going to school, and bring it back on their way home, plus milk her, help churn the butter separate the cream, etc., on top of their other chores.

    When Helen (stepgrandmonster) got especially mean, Mom and my aunts would deliberately leave the cow near a patch of ramps. They figured they only got a glass of milk a day, so what did they care if the cow’s milk was ruined?

  41. 41
    Mr. Stuck says:

    Growing up across the Holler in E Ky, I must say, I never heard of “Ramps”. Though we always considered WV a bit on the elitist side of Hillbilly.

  42. 42
    MR Bill says:

    I’m in one of the northernmost counties of Georgia, and we have a ‘Ramp Tramp’ annually. I think they don’t grow too much further south.
    They are a very strong onion/garlic, and depending on the body chemistry and general hygiene of the person consuming them, can give a rank smell to sweat. Said to be a ‘spring tonic’, I’m always amazed that they manage to reproduce and be as prolific in the highland patches after the harvest. Cooked they aren’t as strong, and I think have a great flavor.
    I grew up in Hayesville, NC, and remember, in the 8th grade the Stillwell brothers being sent home to Shooting Creek because they had been eating ramps and everyone at the Holy week assembly (“We represent all religions, the Methodists, the Baptists, Primitive Baptists, and Church of God) could smell it.

  43. 43
    KRK says:

    I’ve never heard folks talk about ramps around here (way up in the northwest corner of the country), but they seemed to be quite popular on the last season of Top Chef. I figured they were something froufrou.

  44. 44
    passerby says:

    @Jane:

    There’s a ramp festival in East Tennessee

    Oy! as it happens, the Polk County Ramp Tramp Festival’s last day is today. Don’t think I can make it this year.

    : (

    Never heard of a ramp before. Let the ramp hunting begin. First stop, farmers markets.

  45. 45
    passerby says:

    @magisterludi:

    Hey, maybe I didn’t miss out on the whole Ramp Festival scene after all. Cosby, TN you say? May 3rd 2009.

  46. 46
    Krista says:

    So that’s what ramps are. I’ve heard them mentioned occasionally when watching the Food Network, but never remembered to look them up when I was near a computer again.

    I like the little roadside sign. We see a lot of those signs (for oysters, not ramps) pop up around here in the fall. Nothing better than buying food cultivated that very day.

    I’m just looking forward to August when the Chanterelles pop up again on our land — last year I took all the ones that the slugs had gotten to, and broke them up and scattered them everywhere, to try to get more this year. I’m excited to see if it worked.

    Lobster season starts in 6 days. I plan on making an absolute glutton of myself on it.

    I love food threads. :)

  47. 47

    Where in the area were these?

    Sam

  48. 48
    Litlebritdifrnt says:

    I had one of those come up in my tree bed last year, totally out of the blue. It was amongst fading daffodil leaves so I didn’t really notice it at first until the leaves started getting really big and I thunk to myself “that looks like a big leak” sure enough it flowered with the familiar allum flower. I am delighted to see that it came back this year. I have been researching all sorts of “wild food” for a while, and it is a fascinating subject. One of my favorites from old blighty is “samphire” (more commonly known as “sanfer”) which me and me mum would go and gather on the sands of Morecambe Bay and she would then pickle them. You eat it by putting entire stalk in your mouth and pulling the stalk through your teeth leaving the leaves behind in your mouth. The Queen loves it apparently.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samphire

    It would also appear that everyone in the damn neighborhood has wild onions/garlic growing in their front lawn except me (I has a sad because I want to use them as chives and I have also heard that the bulbs while finicky to handle are delicious roasted).

    Gordon Ramsey had a thing on his “F word” show today about snails, how he spends a fortune on fancy French snails and after a little research discovered that he could pay his kids 5 pence a piece and they founds “thousands Daddy” in his back garden. As they were “wild” so to speak there is a detox process to go through before you can eat them but he declared them to be sweeter and much nicer than the fancy French ones. (Not that I would ever eat them, as a Gibraltar Minister friend of mine once said about snails “give it whatever fancy name you want, a slug is a slug).

    Why pay for stuff when you can gather it for free I say :)

  49. 49
    Corner Stone says:

    @EdTheRed:

    I’d tell you how much I paid, but I really don’t need every West Virginian with an internet connection laughing at me.

    Why are you so worried about 3 people making fun of you?

  50. 50
    Xecklothxayyquou Gilchrist says:

    Huh – I’d never heard of ramps. Thanks for the culture lesson!

    I would offer something about indigenous Utah food in return, but there isn’t much to sing about. Funeral potatoes and green jello with carrots are the signature dishes.

    Though Funeral Potatoes are actually pretty good, the name is a bit off-putting.

  51. 51
    John Cole says:

    @Sam Wilkinson: 119 South before the Ramada if you are heading away from town.

  52. 52
    Xecklothxayyquou Gilchrist says:

    Huh – I’d never heard of ramps. Thanks for the culture lesson!

    Here is something about indigenous Utah food in return: Funeral potatoes.

    Though Funeral Potatoes are actually pretty good, the name is a bit off-putting.

    (Pardon if another comment very much like this one shows up at some point – I posted it, nothing showed up, then reposting attempt resulted in pissy “you’ve already posted that!” message.)

  53. 53
    Dan says:

    Ramps are one of those wild plants formerly considered only for hicks that now are used by high-class chefs and command high prices at big city farmers markets (about $10 a pound here in DC)

  54. 54
    Carrie says:

    OMG, love that stuff!! we call that ail des bois and can’t buy it here. Raw, pickled….
    If only I knew someone in west Virginia who would send me some…

  55. 55
    bimmy says:

    Ramps are very low fat, so I’m guessing Tunch does not eat them.

  56. 56
    celticdragon says:

    Looks and sounds yummy. Gonna hafta find some at the Greensboro farmers market.

  57. 57

    @Wikipedia

    In central Appalachia, ramps are most commonly fried with potatoes in bacon grease or scrambled with eggs and served with bacon, pinto beans, and cornbread.

    Damn, that sounds good!

  58. 58

    …Never heard of a ramp before. =/ What is it?

  59. 59
    dancinfool says:

    Every time I cut the lawn (in northeast Tennessee) the whole block smelled like onions. When eaten, guaranteed to produce the longest lasting onion breath in the history of the universe.

  60. 60
    MNPundit says:

    What the fuck, ramps? Why do you hicks always have to rename everything something stupid, like ramps?

  61. 61
    Evolved Deep Southerner says:

    I worked in the mountains of Western North Carolina for a couple of years back in the early 2000s and one of the biggest “native” (i.e., a longstanding, authentic, local “hillbilly” tradition that survived the coming of the tourists, the country clubs and the “summer colony” crowd) events near Highlands, N.C. was a Ramp Dinner fundraiser hosted by a local volunteer fire department. They always made the hell out of some money on that one, as hundreds of people came to buy plants that the firefighters had gone and gathered themselves for nothing.

    I considered it the mountain equivalent of what another commenter called polk salad higher in the thread. (Though I’d always see it spelled “poke sallit” or “poke salad.”) Here in my small northeast Georgia town we have the “Poke Sallit Festival” every year. It’s not bad. Like collards. And, yes, the old timers all agreed that if you did not cook it multiple times before serving, the results could be, if not fatal, then in wish-you-were-dead territory.

  62. 62
    trotsky says:

    Until now, the only time I’d heard of ramps was when Anthony Bourdain wrote about the joy of buying them — a marker of spring — at the Union Square (IIRC) farmers market in Manhattan. Seemed like a very chi-chi New York thing.

    I guess all gourmet cuisine is somebody’s redneck home cooking.

  63. 63
    Michael says:

    It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when buying food from farmers instead of, y’know, the Jolly Green Giant is “chi-chi”. An abundance of fresh seasonal nummies, like ramps, are what help make NYC a foodie heaven.

  64. 64
    stillnotking says:

    I grew up in West Virginia and occasionally had ramps at my grandmother’s house. I have since encountered them (very rarely) at specialty stores and high-end restaurants, but either because there are different strains or because something is lost in transit, they never have the overwhelming flavor and smell I remember — “handicapped” ramps, if you will. Real ramps are definitely an acquired taste.

  65. 65
    amber says:

    I’m a West Virginia native, now living in NYC… believe it or not, I actually saw a TON of ramps over the weekend at the green market in Union Square! It’s still not the same as buying them out of the bed of a pick up truck on the side of Rt.21 in Pocatalico, WV.

    Thanks for this post!

  66. 66
    Buskertype says:

    I grew up in WbgVa and ate a LOT of ramps. In my opinion they should be cooked by themselves, fried in bacon grease or lard, although frying equal parts potatoes and ramps together is acceptable. They’re milder and sweeter than onions but the smell has more depth and lasts longer (of course that may be because you would never eat a whole plate of onions by themselves.)

    I’d forgotten it was ramp season, good thing I’m going home in a couple weeks. I’ll eat up.

  67. 67
    DavidS says:

    Cain and JenJen say: “Wow. So this is what normal folks real Americans eat instead of arugula huh?”

    Thank you for the clear and unequivocal illustration of the arrogance and elitism of the right. We often hear righties whine and wimper about the ‘elites of the left’ who just don’t respect those in middle America. But I NEVER hear a lefty talk like this. It is always the Righty who insists that his or her particular tastes are what “normal americans” do, while the tastes of others are elitist.

    But while we ALL hear the whines of the right mocking the lefties’ preference for, say, Starbucks Frapaccinos, I have NEVER heard a lefty make fun of the righty’s preference for cheap beer.

    Same old same old.

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