We’re heavy into ramp season here on the East Coast and if that elicits a “huh?” from you, here’s the deal: Ramps are wild cousins of leeks, onions, and garlic—the allium family—but their curvaceous white bulbs, slender stalks, and tender, lily of the valley-shaped leaves belie a powerful pack of pungency. Some would describe them as fetid, but that doesn’t stop ramps from being feted at feasts in southern Appalachia mountain communities every spring.
Early settlers and Native Americans foraged for ramps as a fresh green spring tonic, but these days they’re the craze among locavore chefs. A plant with this kind of following has plenty of lore. Here are five wacky facts:
A New Scent in Newsprint: The late Jim Comstock, founder and editor of the Richwood News Leader in West Virginia, arranged for the unmistakable ramp scent to be added to the ink used to print his newspaper in March, 1948. It was enough to draw the ire of the Postmaster General. A friend of Comstock’s at DuPont concentrated the juice from a bushel of ramps, then fiddled with it chemically to make it work in the printing press.
Eat Ramps To Skip School: In the Roscoe and Downsville school districts in the Catskills, a principal is allowed to send a child home if he or she snacked on raw ramps while waiting for the morning bus. “It’s usually the same boys,” laughs Rick Bishop, ramp forager, owner of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, and father of two daughters, “who get a kick out of bringing snakes and spiders to school. It disrupts the class.”
Renewable Heart: Ramps have five rings (like the rings of an onion) and a heart. The heart grows into the stalk that supports the blossom and later the seeds. Each winter, the old heart moves to the outside and falls off, and a new heart is created, says Glen Facemire, owner with his wife Norene of the Ramp Farm in Richwood, West Virginia. Continue reading