Ramps: The State of the Onion

The ramp is a wild green with a zesty bite that appears for a scant few weeks in early spring hither and yon in shady, mountainous parts of North America. Has forever. Then the darn hipsters got ahold of it. (Thanks, Internet.) That led to a kind of national mouthwatering that might have peaked last year, cross fingers.

As usual, the good part was the eating. Just eyeball some of the ramp dishes chefs have turned out in the restaurants we’ve mapped, listed here. The bad part was the hype, which has led to restaurants paying $25 a pound for, basically, scallions. (Both sides of the story get daylight in a just-aired episode of PBS’s popular A Chef’s Life, in which bacon eminence Allan Benton shows America how to zero in on the wild leeks, then embalm them, deliciously, in pork.)

As for the worst part …. A ramp takes ten years to grow from seed, but only 2-3 years from a bulb. And while the bulbs are fetching and tasty, especially pickled, the leaves of the ramp deliver plenty of flavor and mouthfeel without decimating the population, a fact lost on many a foodie. Up in Canada, they figured this out in the 90s and banned the legal sale of ramps. Now there’s a black market for them in Quebec. Down here? Well, it’s early yet — ramps won’t be ripe for the picking till at least March — but we feel like we’ve caught a whiff of a downtrend on the wind this January.

We have an opportunity here, America. February through March is the season to buy the ramp bulbs. If each one of us would start by trying some of the growers listed here, and following the cultivation wisdom listed here—well, we can’t replace what we stole out of the ground, but maybe we can home-grow enough to cure our grandbabies’ spring fever in ten years or so.

We’ve done enough ramping up, citizens. Let’s us bring the ramp back, want to?

State of the Onion

Click here for the KaTom blog’s selection of restaurants that do the ramp justice.

Elaine Evans
Elaine Evans Elaine Evans is thrilled to blog for KaTom, where her work in restaurants, bars, catering, and artisanal food has caught up at last with her career in journalism and public relations writing. Connect with Elaine Evans on Google+