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Spring is season for flavorful, fleeting ramps

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This month and next, wild mountain onions known as “ramps” will likely be available at produce vendor booths at Saturday’s Franklin Farmers Market, at roadside produce stands, or you can go out and dig your own. Ramps are only available for short time and the North Carolina Cooperative Extension provides information on what to look for as well as a recipe should you be lucky enough to find some.  

Ramps, Allium tricoccum, also known as wild leeks, are native to the eastern North American mountains. They can be found growing in patches in rich, moist, deciduous forests and bottoms from as far north as Canada, west to Missouri and Minnesota, and south to North Carolina and Tennessee. In early spring, ramps send up smooth, broad, lily-of-the-valley-like leaves that disappear by summer before the white flowers appear. The bulbs have the pleasant taste of sweet spring onions with a strong garlic-like aroma.

As one of the first plants to emerge in the spring, ramps were traditionally consumed as the season’s first “greens.” They were considered a tonic because they provided necessary vitamins and minerals following long winter months without any fresh vegetables. Traditions evolved around the annual gathering and preparation of this pungent plant. 

Ramps are now very popular among consumers. Ramps are served in restaurants, sold in supermarkets, and sought after by chefs and cooks across the country. This has created an increasing demand for large, consistent supplies of the wild forest plant. Thus, in an effort to conserve native populations and meet rising demand, cultivation of ramps is strongly encouraged. Harvesting ramps from easily accessible, concentrated plantings would not only benefit festival participants, chefs, and consumers, but also create a new marketable product for the commercial grower. Native populations would be allowed to regenerate and multiply as ramps gain recognition and popularity among consumers.

Since almost all ramps consumed are harvested from wild populations, information on growing ramps is very limited. We have conducted research on developing efficient, practical, and sustainable production practices for ramps for many years. 

For more information on harvesting, growing, and cooking with ramps, visit: https://newcropsorganics.ces.ncsu.edu/specialty-crops/ramps .

Ramps and Taters

Fry bacon in skillet, remove from the pan and set aside. Put diced potatoes in bacon grease and let fry 3 to 4 minutes. Add cut-up ramps and continue frying until potatoes are well done.

Put previously fried bacon on top of potatoes and ramps. Let simmer for about 2 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

More recipes for such dishes as Ramp Omelet, Ramp Meatloaf, and Mountain Trout Stuffed with Ramps, are available from North Carolina Cooperative Extension: https://newcropsorganics.ces.ncsu.edu/specialty-crops/ramps.

Pictured above: Ramps can often be found at early spring farmer’s markets or you can hit the woods and dig your own.