What are Ramps?
Ramps, or Allium tricoccum, are a type of wild leek that grow on the East Coast, down to about zone 8. They taste like a hybrid of onion and garlic, with a little bit of woodsy thrown in. They have a very short harvest season in the spring, just a couple of weeks, and are both rare and expensive to purchase. Ramps look superficially like a green onion. The root end is a creamy white, which changes into a pink mid-section. Ramp leaves are wider than a green onion, more oval shaped than grass-like. All of the parts of a ramp, save the root itself, is edible. In the earlier portions of the season, the ramp is aromatic and flavorful. As the season progresses, it becomes more garlicky.
These East Coast veggies can be used like spring onions or young leeks, and shine best when they are the highlight of the dish. Lightly roasting or sauteing is a great method of cooking them. Their subtle nuances can be best appreciated when prepared simply or when cooked into delicately flavored foods such as eggs.
Ramps could become an endangered species, though. Getting prices as high as $20/lb or $5/bunch, ramps are in danger of being over-harvested. Some farmers are working on growing ramps, as they grow best under a canopy of beech, birch, sugar maple, or poplar trees. Seed is available for growing ramps. It can take as many as 18 months to get seed to sprout, and it is a very slow growing plant, taking as much as 6 years to offer a viable harvest. There's also a risk, similarly to farm-raised truffles, that farming ramps will impact their more ephemeral qualities.
Live south of zone 8? It's unlikely that ramps will be part of the local ecology. Don't lose hope, though, garlic chives are a good replacement for ramps down South. Their pungent and onion-y flavor and fragrance do a decent job of mimicking ramps in the currently trendy ramp recipe craze. They grow well even in marginal soil, and there's no worry about over-harvesting them.
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