Certainly when it comes to amplifying the tastes of your dishes, ramps occupy a space of their own. Tis the season to enjoy the exclusive flavor they bring us each spring. They are the very first of the greens to poke their bladed leaves up through the forest floor. Native to the Northeast, down through Appalachia and as far west as Wisconsin, they are prized forage for the table. Their season lasts only a few short weeks. Gourmet markets can charge as much as $25 a pound. Inspired chefs vie for the best use of their combined flavor of mild garlic and wild leeks. Fortunately, the entire plant, bulb to leaf end, is deliciously edible.
Dubbed by some “Little Stinkers” for their distinctive scent and unique taste, those who appreciate the ramp have become quite protective of their sources. Given how prized they are, one can readily imagine usually normal people slinking off with their bags and baskets, with their clawed cultivators and trowels, to some obscure segment of woods to harvest while attempting not to give away the location of their favorite patches.
Until recently, various efforts to cultivate the ramp have met with stubborn resistance. However, our persistent farmers and ramp advocates have had greater success lately, by taking care to note and duplicate the places that ramps seem to prefer. That is, largely though not exclusively, nestled among the roots of deciduous trees where they spread from rhizomes and well as from the seed scatter. Still, it is a slow crop, sometimes taking up to seven years to mature from seed.
The Mid-Atlantic States are awash with springtime festivals honoring the ramp. Richwood, West Virginia has declared itself the ramp capital of the world. The erstwhile editor of the Richwood News Leader, Jim Comstock, earned dubious fame as a practical joker when he added ramp juice to his printer’s ink, printed a spring edition and mailed it to his subscribers. The Post Master General was reputed to be unamused.
In addition to the fabulous soup offered for tasting at the last market, we have previously published ramp recipes such as Ramp Fritatta, Farrotto with Ramps, Fiddleheads and Asparagus and Mushrooms, Ramps and Bacon, all of which are available on the market web site. Today we are offering Shrimp with Ramps and Mushrooms in Coconut Milk. We recommend serving it with Chinese Black Rice.