Every year around this time, food bloggers breakout into sweats as ramps begin to make their way into local markets. Recipes for ramp jam, ramp butter, ramps and eggs, ramp pesto and pickled ramps proliferate. Newspapers print lists of ramp festivals throughout the Southeast and insist that you will like ramps if you can get past their stink.
So, guess who’s on the bandwagon this year? In keeping with all things EatBufordHighway, I’ll cut the crap and get down to brass tacks. You’ll either love ramps or hate them. If you only “like” them, you’ll hate them as soon as you find out that they’ll cost you about $20/lb…
So, why are they so expensive? It’s simple really. Ramps are notoriously difficult to cultivate and most are foraged. Also, it can take up to 3 years before a seed will mature to a harvestable bulb.
So, why don’t I go out and find my own? Go right ahead- it’s a free country. But, be sure you know what you’re looking for. While ramps are a lot easier to identify that mushrooms, you can still jack yourself up pretty bad if you make a mistake. Ramps look almost identical to Lily of the Valley. There’s really only one cosmetic difference – ramp bulbs blend from white at the bottom to purple along the stem. Lily of the Valley is all white. The other difference is that Lily of the Valley will kill your ass.
So, how do I know if I’ll like them? Do you like onions and leeks? Do you like garlic? Do you like the idea of those all mashed up into one plant? Then you’ll probably like ramps. I can understand that at that price point, you’d be hesitant to try them. But a handful will only set you back about $3-4, so it’s not that expensive to experiment.
Where do I find them and what do I do with them once I have my hands on some? You should be able to find them a local farmers markets throughout April – I found these at the Buford Highway Farmers Market. As ramps are foraged, don’t expect them to be nice and clean – you’ll find them just as they were dug out of the ground. Expect fair amount of mud and don’t be put off by the mucousy outer skin on the bulbs (it kind of reminds me of a green onion that’s past it’s prime…). Just look for bright, healthy leaves. The leaves are delicate and wilt quickly – if the leaves don’t look good, the ramp is too old.
If you really want to get a taste for ramps, go simple. I simply toss them in a good olive oil and throw them on a hot grill. Keep them moving so they don’t burn – you’re looking to wilt them down and get a slight char. Grilling will bring out the sugars. Off the grill, hit them with a little salt and you’re done.