Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Wild West Virginia Ramps

Ramps or Wild Leeks
Allium tricoccum, commonly known as the ramp, is a species of wild onion native to the eastern United States and Canada. In West Virginia, it grows in hollows or other shaded, wet areas. The ramp plant resembles a broad-leaved lily and grows in clumps of multiple plants 5-10" high. It is one of the first plants up in the spring, generally in mid-April. It is widely foraged in Appalachia, and people often sell ramps along the sides of roads. All parts of the ramp are edible, both the bulb and the leaves. It is traditionally fried with potatoes in bacon fat or battered and deep-fried.

We knew we had large numbers of ramps growing on the western edge of our property, primarily along the side of the hollow that forms the west property border. In previous years, we had dug a few ramps, but never spent the time or energy to take advantage of this interesting food. They have a strong taste that requires some getting used to.

Fields of Ramps
This past Sunday, a windy rainy day not much useful for anything else, we put on our raincoats and tramped over to the western hollow with the dogs. There were a few clumps of ramps here and there, and we dug as we walked. We found an old logging road that had ramps growing in the road bed, and so we followed along, digging as we went, a few here, a few there, trying not to take too many from a given area. As we followed the road, it crested over a hill, giving a view of the western-facing downhill slope leading to the west property line. The hillside was completely covered with bright green ramps as far as we could see; they covered the forest floor all the way down into the hollow. There were perhaps five acres of ground like this. We were ramp tycoons!

Cleaned Ramps
By this point, we had filled up the plastic grocery bag as full as possible, so we headed back to the house excited about foraging part of our evening's dinner. The ramps were muddy and were covered by a brown skin, and after a bit of work we ended up with a pile of cleaned and de-rooted ramps. For dinner that night we had grilled pork rib chops, baked potatoes, and ramps sautéed in olive oil with salt and pepper (with a Zaca Mesa Syrah). The taste of the ramps was a cross between a green onion, leek, garlic, and something more earthy yet. They tasted like the dark black compost in which they grew.
Half Bushel of Ramps
The next morning, we headed back to the ramp fields and picked a half bushel more. We barely made a dent in a tiny corner of the ramp-covered hillside. We dug perhaps 8-10 lbs, which filled a half-bushel basked. They weren't for us, but for a friend who loves the treats we bring from the Farm. We spend about 30 min digging and another 20 min hauling the basket back up to the house. We washed them off with the hose, and packed them into a 13 gal plastic bag for the trip home. The car was pretty stinky.

That afternoon, I made a visit to The Seasoned Farmhouse with a 13 gal bag of ramps in tow. My cooking instructor Tricia Wheeler was absolutely delighted and a bit intimidated with the size of the present, but immediately started cleaning the ramps so she could include them in a salad for her Monday Étoile class. Very few people in the class had ever heard of a ramp, let alone tasted one so fresh. Tricia plans to serve the ramps in a risotto in her upcoming class on cooking leg of lamb.

Ramp Oil
That evening for dinner, we had ramp and pea risotto garnished with a ramp oil. The ramp oil was made by pureeing 2 cups of chopped ramp leaves with 1 cup of olive oil, heating this to a simmer for a few minutes, filtering through a fine sieve, and finally filtering through a paper towel. The oil was dark green and smelled earthy and strongly of onions.

Ramp and Pea Risotto w/Ramp Oil
The risotto started with sliced ramp bulbs sautéed in olive oil, carnaroli rice, chicken stock, peas, and grated parmesan cheese. It was plated and garnished with ramp oil and more parmesan cheese. The flavor of the ramps had softened to a very mellow onion/leek flavor and the ramp oil added a final touch of freshness.

I also made some ramp pickles using ramp bulbs and a pickling liquid made from cider vinegar, sugar, salt, pink and white peppercorns, and cumin, mustard, coriander, and caraway seeds. The pickles were refrigerated and will be ready in a few weeks.

Pickled Ramps
It is a satisfying feeling to eat foraged foods. Of course they are free, but it is also about the labor involved in foraging. What is nice is that the source of the food is certain and it is about as local as possible. It's the same feeling we get eating eggs from our backyard flock of chickens.

To forage these ramps we needed only a basket and a garden knife for digging. Hiking sticks helped  get us over the rough terrain. It not as if we saved a lot of money digging ramps, but the satisfaction of eating foraged food is similar to the feeling we get eating food we have grown. Food is such an important part of our lives, and the quality of the ingredients that goes into our food plays such a critical role.


  1. Hi Rob! I was there on Monday--I've heard of ramps and cooked with them too. As I think I mentioned, they are available now at the Cintonville Farmer's market. Delghted to find your blog.

    1. Susan, how ever did you find my blog?


  2. The Seasoned Farmhouse linked to it on Facebook, thanking you for your ramps and posting a pretty picture of them.

  3. I found your blog via Google Maps. I've been to Blackwater Falls a few times and next weekend I plan to visit Seneca Rocks and Spruce Knob.

  4. Here in Grant County WV at Abrams Creek Campground in Mt Storm we have ramps. I, Peggy, am a new transplant here and wanna learn "Ramp". Thanks for info, ramp tycoons. We have retreats here, and many of our clients want Health, and we cater in house, sometimes buying dishes from outside. I hope you and we become trading partners, so here I am putting out feelers. Gonna look at Seasoned Farmhouse too. <3 Found you on Purple Fiddle's Twitter followers. Loving you from afar. Did you get snow today too?-we have about an inch on 11/20/16! =D