Spring supper, Appalachian style.

rampsandbeans.JPGThere’s nothing so West Virginian as ramps and beans. Especially with cornbread. And especially when all the ingredients come from your own land, or just down the road.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are the national food of West Virginia. The proper term for a serving of ramps is a “mess.” (As in this sentence, from my neighbor the other day: “I don’t dig too many ramps. I’ll have a few messes, but then I get tired of digging ’em.”)

People say ramps will make you stink, but that’s not necessarily so. Cooked ramps won’t give you any more odor than cooked garlic will. (The scent of a big mess of raw ramps, on the other hand, will come out on your skin the next day.)

Ramps have always been a backwoods thing, and fancy town people tend to be scared of them. I know someone who runs a nice restaurant not too far from here, and she tells me that when the place first opened, she naïvely put ramp quiche on the menu. She didn’t sell a single serving. (Customers recoiled in horror: “But I’ll stink!”) Now she’s wised up. She calls them “wild leeks” and they’re, ahem, wildly popular.

Now, non-Appalachian fancy people are all about ramps these days. They’re trendy in New York, where I’m told they go for $30 a pound. This is a worrying development, because ramps are not easily farmed, and they’re very vulnerable to depletion in their wild habitat. If you do harvest ramps, only pick where they’re very abundant, and only take one or two from each patch. If they aren’t super-abundant where you are, consider picking only leaves, or leaving the bottom quarter-inch of bulb in the ground to regenerate.

We’re lucky to have a big bag of ramps in the fridge right now, so we’ve been putting them in everything. (Eggs, soups, greens pizza, pesto — everything but ice cream. My sister pickled some and served them in Bloody Marys at Easter.) But ramps and beans are still my favorite. With cornbread. Southern, crispy-crumbly all-stoneground-corn cornbread. 

Make your own:

Soak and cook your beans. (I used tiger eye beans from last year’s garden, but ramps are good with any brown or white beans.) Salt them well. Set aside.

Clean ramps well. Chop, and saute in good local lard or bacon drippings. (Schmalz is good, too, if pigs aren’t your thing.) When the ramps are cooked to your liking, add the beans. Simmer a bit.

For the cornbread, heat your oven to 400F or so, and put a nice number 12 cast iron skillet in there to get hot (yeah, you can use any baking dish, but a good hot skillet makes it crispy like it should be). Make sure you have fresh, coarse stoneground cornmeal. (We’re lucky to be able to get old-time multicolored “bloody butcher” corn from a local miller.) Mix about 2 cups of cornmeal with a teaspoon of salt and a little less than a teaspoon soda. Add about a cup and a half of buttermilk or sour milk (yogurt works too), an egg, and a couple of tablespoons of melted fat (lard, bacon drippings, schmalz or butter). Mix it all up and bake it in the hot skillet for, oh, a half hour or so, or until it’s nice and brown. This is a really flexible recipe. You can mess with the ingredients a lot without much trouble. (The other night we were out of eggs, and the cornbread came out perfectly tasty without them.)

Eat!

(We had some of last year’s hard cider with ours. A perfect meal!)

15 Comments »

  1. Granny Sue said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

    Um, good. we’ve had our ramp dinners too, and today my husband tried drying some. He tried outside for a couple days first but wasn’t getting they very dry. Today he tried the oven, heating it to 200, turning it off and putting the ramps in. They came out brown and crispy! Not exactly what I had in mind but I think still useful as a garnish, perhaps.

    We planted some last year, and they are doing well. It will be several more years before we can harvest from our planted patch, of course, but I am looking forward to it because there are no natural ramp patches in this county that I know of.

  2. April said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 7:28 am

    Oh, I would love a nice ramp patch around here. I know they grow in my area, but not really anywhere I have access to. I wonder if I might be able to start a patch. I think they like moist ground, is that right? Maybe down by the stream?

  3. crabappleherbs said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 7:38 am

    Granny Sue, I can’t imagine an Appalachian county without ramps! Keep transplanting!

    April, yes, they like moist spots, especially steep, shaded slopes. Look for places that trilliums and trout lilies like.

  4. crabappleherbs said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 7:40 am

    Oh, and Granny Sue, I’ve never dried ramps myself, but I imagine you might need a dehydrator, especially for the bulbs. My favorite way to preserve ramps is by pickling.

  5. Lang said,

    April 15, 2009 @ 5:08 pm

    Wish we had ramps out west (Seattle). There are some other alliums like wild garlic but nothing special. Are you finding morels too?

  6. Holly said,

    April 16, 2009 @ 10:38 am

    Mmmmm…I miss ramps. (They don’t do so well in Miami.) My Memaw used to love them, as she did all alliums: this was a woman who’d eat onions like apples.

    When you pickle them, do you lacto-ferment them or do you use vinegar?

    I’m so glad you’re blogging again, Rebecca! One of the best and most helpful things on the web…

  7. tigress said,

    April 17, 2009 @ 6:46 am

    Hi Rebecca,

    Your blog is great! We transplanted ramps given to us by a neighbor (I am in the northeast) three years ago and they actually took! Every spring they come up in the same places, but they are not multiplying. 🙁 We are afraid to eat any and have been disappointed every year because we can’t eat them!

    They will come up in another month and if it is the same, (have not multiplied) I am thinking of using your suggestion of just picking the leaves. If you have any other suggestions on how to get them to multiply, I’d appreciate it!

  8. StarkRavingMom said,

    April 19, 2009 @ 1:52 am

    I’m so happy you are blogging again! Alas, no ramps in San Diego. Any other substitutes for a meal like this?

  9. Henriette said,

    April 19, 2009 @ 4:10 am

    It is funny – they grow like weeds here i Denmark.
    I often get them in my organic veggie box
    – so I tend to get a bit fed up with them after a few weeks.

    Nice to see you back

  10. crabappleherbs said,

    April 20, 2009 @ 9:32 am

    Thanks, everybody!

    Lang: no morels yet, but a friend just found some, so I know they’re out there!

    Holly: I’ve done both styles of pickling them. This year I want to do a ramp-leaf kimchi!

    tigress: where are your ramps sited? Is it sloping, shaded, woodsy and damp?

    StarkRavingMom: when it’s not ramp season, I use plain old onions and garlic in my beans. You could try scallions, for color…

    Henriette: You have A. ursinum over there, right? Have you had A. tricoccum, too? I’m curious about how they compare (I’ve never tasted A. ursinum).

  11. tigress said,

    April 21, 2009 @ 8:07 am

    it is shaded, it a woodsy patch on the on a high bank near a stream bed. so i think it meets all of your questions with an affirmative. is that good??

  12. Granny Sue said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 9:31 pm

    We dried some more. This time we heated the oven to 200, turned it off, waited a few minutes and put the ramps in. They dried beautifully. We’ve put them in a few things–spaghetti and a rice dish and the flavor is awesome.

    My son is presefving them in Italian dressing. I have a feeling there are many, endless possibilities with ramps.

  13. Henriette said,

    April 27, 2009 @ 2:21 pm

    You are right
    it is A. U we´ve got
    – no I don´t think A. T grows here
    – but I was fooled cause they look very similar – and the way we use it is the same 😉

    Our taste like a mix between garlic and chives.
    In dansih they are called rams-løg
    Løg = onions

  14. crabappleherbs said,

    April 30, 2009 @ 5:46 pm

    tigress: yes, that sounds good.

    Granny Sue: what are they like dried? How do they taste?

    Henriette: I think they’re probably similar. (It seems pretty clear that the Appalachian folks who came here from the British Isles were talking about “ramsons” when they said “ramps.”)

  15. David Roberts said,

    August 18, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

    This is wonderful, you can’t believe how long I have hunted for such a site!

    I am working on really developing a “woods garden,” Paw-paws, sarsaparilla, ginsing, morels, chives, black walnut, mulberry, Jerusalem Artichokes, and such but I am stumped as how to introduce some ramps here. No one seems to offer these for a fellow like myself to start growing. Do any of your followers know of a source from which I might buy a dozen or so “sets” of ramps???
    Thanks for being out there for us!
    dave

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