It's all about Ramps these days and from chef to wild forager they are in high demand.
Ramps, Allium tricoccum, are part of the Allium family and have some of the flavor characteristics of leeks, onions, and garlic.
"The ramp has broad, smooth, light green leaves, often with deep purple or burgundy tints on the lower stems, and a scallion-like stalk and bulb. Both the white lower leaf stalks and the broad green leaves are edible. The flower stalk only appears after the leaves have died back, unlike the similar Allium ursinum, in which leaves and flowers can be seen at the same time. Ramps grow in close groups strongly rooted just beneath the surface of the soil." - "Cultivation of Ramps". North Carolina State University
Known as Wood Leeks or Wild Leeks, ramps can be found throughout the eastern-half of the United States, reaching as far west as Oklahoma and as far north as the central and eastern provinces of Canada.
Today, ramps are a wild-edible delicacy in most places and defines a sort of Appalachian or Eastern U.S. "terroir", but what was once a commonly found plant is now a rarity as land development and sprawl, deforestation, and over harvesting by some foragers has decimated the population.
There are projects going on to reestablish the wild scallion in a number of regions in the Eastern United States. Carriage House Farm is lucky to be part of one such attempt by Grow Appalachia. A program out of Berea College in Central Kentucky, Grow Appalachia is working with farmers, gardeners, ranchers, and conservationists across a five state area to reintroduce old native and heirloom species of plants. Ramps are but one facet of this program.
Last year we received several thousand ramp seeds from this project. Those seeds were, in part, divided amongst several local farms in the Cincinnati region. Our share of the seed was planted across fifteen different sites on our farm and our neighbor's adjoining property, across a total of twenty-three acres. It takes two years for the seeds to germinate and another couple years till it hits production levels. We are happy to see the fruits of our labor begin to be realized as the small little plants, having taken root the previous spring and summer, are now putting on their first leaves...or sprouts.
It will be several years before any of these can be harvested and when they are we can control the cultivation and forage of these native scallions. As we move from here, knowing that it is indeed possible to reestablish ramps it is our hope to build entire meadows and hillsides of them. So, as wild ramps are being over-harvested, a group of farmers and gardeners are making sure that not all these wild culinary delights vanish and are still able to find their way onto a plate in a restaurant in a sustainable fashion.