Some of the things that I am very sorry to be missing while away are the first ramps of the season. Ramps or Allium Tricoccum, are also known as wild leeks, ramson, and ail de bois. They appear in the springtime in deciduous forest areas from South Carolina to Canada and as far west as Missouri and Minnesota. West Virginia in particular is known for its celebration of this seasonal delicacy. Ramps grow in patches in cool shady areas with moist soil that is rich in organic materials. They begin to appear in late March and can be found through the end of May. By June the flowers have bloomed, leaving the seeds to appear on the leafless stalks. That is the end of wild leeks until the following season.
Ramps resemble scallions in that they have a white bulb at the bottom of the stalk although the green leaves are long, oval, and almost silky, with pointed ends, often with reddish streaks along their hearts. They have a strong flavor, a hybrid of onion and garlic, leaning heavily toward the garlic. They are edible from the tips of their leaves to their fleshy bulbous bottoms. Ramps are often considered a spring tonic for their strong flavor and infusion of minerals and nutrients at the end of a long winter. In the South they are often served at home fried up with potatoes or scrambled with eggs, while in restaurants around the country they may be found in a multitude of guises: pickled and served with fried oysters or soft shell crabs, blanched and sautéed in risottos and pastas, or simply seared and tucked up beside roasted morels and grilled lamb chops.
Ramps have long been a favorite of ours. I’ve spent hours bent over crates of them in professional kitchens, meticulously cleaning and pickling them so that we could preserve their bounty for the months ahead. It’s a common practice and a beneficial one. There’s nothing quite like a great pickled ramp. We also love them fresh, simply grilled or sautéed so that the green are slightly crisp and the bulbs are tender and toothsome. The flavor is like nothing else. Creamed into a soup garnished with fresh lumps of crab meat or fried with potatoes and served alongside a thick steak, ramps are a revelation. My mouth waters just thinking of what we could do with them. I can only hope that there are some left in the market when we get back to New York. They’re one of the last seasonal specialties and all the more precious for that fact.