|Wild leek or ramp|
Allium tricoccum (commonly known as ramp, ramps, spring onion, ramson, wild leek, wood leek, and wild garlic) is an early spring vegetable, a perennial wild onion with a strong garlic-like odor and a pronounced onion flavor. Ramps are found across eastern North America, from the U.S. state of South Carolina to Canada. They are popular in the cuisines of the rural uplands of the American South, and also in the Canadian province of Quebec. Ramps also have a growing popularity in upscale restaurants throughout North America.
According to West Virginia University botanist Earl L. Core, the widespread use in southern Appalachia of the term “ramps” (as opposed to “wild leek” which is used elsewhere) derives from Old English:
The name ramps (usually plural) is one of the many dialectical variants of the English word ramson, a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), a broad-leaved species of garlic much cultivated and eaten in salads, a plant related to our American species. The Anglo-Saxon ancestor of ramson was hramsa, and ramson was the Old English plural, the –n being retained as in oxen, children, etc. The word is cognate with rams, in German, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian, and with the Greek kromuon, garlic [...]. Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary (1904) lists as variants rame, ramp, ramps, rams, ramsden, ramsey, ramsh, ramsies, ramsy, rommy, and roms, mostly from northern England and Scotland.
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 groups strongly rooted just beneath the surface of the soil.
History and folklore
The city of Chicago took its name from a dense growth of ramps near Lake Michigan in Illinois in the 17th century, after the area was described by 17th-century explorer Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, and explained by his comrade, the naturalist and diarist Henri Joutel. The plant called shikaakwa (chicagou) in the language of native tribes was once thought to be Allium cernuum, the nodding wild onion, but research in the early 1990s showed the correct plant was the ramp.
The ramp has strong associations with the folklore of the central Appalachian Mountains. Fascination and humor have fixated on the plant's extreme pungency. Jim Comstock, editor and co-owner of the Richwood News Leader, introduced ramp juice into the printer's ink of one issue as a practical joke, invoking the ire of the U.S. Postmaster General.
The mountain folk of Appalachia have long celebrated spring with the arrival of the ramp, believing it to have great power as a tonic to ward off many ailments of winter. Indeed, ramp's vitamin and mineral content did bolster the health of people who went without many green vegetables during the winter.
A ramp bath was featured in the 1974 film Where the Lilies Bloom about life in North Carolina. In the 1987 John Sayles film Matewan, an Appalachian woman in a camp of West Virginia union miners gives a hare to an Italian immigrant woman, along with some ramps "to flavor the stew". The Italian woman smells the ramps and exclaims "aglio!" (garlic!).
Culinary uses and festivals
The plant's flavor, a combination of onions and strong garlic, or "fried green onions with a dash of funky feet" in the words of food writer Jane Snow, is adaptable to numerous cooking styles. In central Appalachia, ramps are most commonly fried with potatoes in bacon fat or scrambled with eggs and served with bacon, pinto beans and cornbread. Ramps can also be pickled or used in soups and other foods in place of onions and garlic.
- The community of Richwood, West Virginia, holds the annual "Feast of the Ramson" in April. Sponsored by the National Ramp Association, the "Ramp Feed" (as it is locally known) brings thousands of ramp aficionados from considerable distances to sample foods featuring the plant. During the ramp season (late winter through early spring), restaurants in the town serve a wide variety of foods containing ramps.
- The city of Elkins, West Virginia, hosts the "Ramps and Rails Festival" during the last weekend in April of each year. This festival features a cook-off and ramp-eating contests, and is attended by several hundred people each year.
- The town of Cosby, Tennessee, bordering Great Smoky Mountains National Park, has held the largest and one of the oldest ramp festivals in the United States, the "Cosby Ramp Festival," on the first weekend in May since 1954. The festival has played host to as many as 30,000 visitors in years past, has been attended by ex-President Harry Truman, and has featured such notable musical acts as Tennessee Ernie Ford, Eddy Arnold, Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Minnie Pearl, and Brenda Lee. Besides the food, heritage music, dancing, and adulation of the ramp, each year a young woman is crowned "Maid of Ramps".
- The community of Flag Pond, Tennessee, hosts its annual Ramp Festival on the second Saturday each May. The festival features a wide variety of ramp-inspired foods, and includes music from an assortment of Appalachian groups. Hundreds of people attend the festival each year.
- The community of Whitetop, Virginia, holds its annual ramp festival the third weekend in May. It is sponsored by the Mount Rogers volunteer fire department and features local music from Wayne Henderson and other bands, along with a barbecued chicken feast complete with fried potatoes and ramps and local green beans. A ramp-eating contest is held for children and adults.
- At the "Ramp It Up! Festival" held in the Native American outpost of Cherokee, North Carolina on the eastern side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, ramps and rainbow trout are the focus.
- An annual ramp convention in Haywood County, North Carolina has drawn as many as 4,000 participants at a time since its inception circa 1925.
- Mason Dixon Park, located on the border of West Virginia and Pennsylvania near Interstate 79, hosts the annual "Mason-Dixon Ramp Festival", typically on the third weekend in April. This festival is unique in having a "ramp rally", where ramp lovers pulling Serro Scotty campers gather to celebrate both ramps and the Scotty, a travel trailer which was manufactured in this area from 1957 until the local factory burned down in 1997.
- In Bradford, Pennsylvania, on the first Saturday in May, an annual event called "Stinkfest" is held. Local food vendors, providing Chinese, German, Italian, and traditional American cuisine, offer their dishes with leeks included. Highlights include the dip tasting contest, the outhouse races (where teams from local business build rolling outhouses and power them down the main thoroughfare), and appearances by local musical groups.
In Canada, ramps are considered rare delicacies. Since the growth of ramps is not as widespread as in Appalachia and because of destructive human practices, ramps are a threatened species in Quebec. Allium tricoccum is a protected species under Quebec legislation. A person may have ramps in his or her possession outside the plant's natural environment, or may harvest it for the purposes of personal consumption in an annual quantity not exceeding 200 grams of any of its parts or a maximum of 50 bulbs or 50 plants, provided those activities do not take place in a park within the meaning of the National Parks Act. The protected status also prohibits any commercial transactions of ramps; this prevents restaurants from serving ramps as is done in the United States. Failure to comply with these laws is punishable by a fine. However, the law does not always stop poachers, who find a ready market across the border in Ontario (especially in the Ottawa area), where ramps may be legally harvested and sold.
Ramps are considered a species of "special concern" for conservation in Maine, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. They are also considered "commercially exploited" in Tennessee. Ramp festivals may encourage harvest in unsustainable quantities.
- "Allium tricoccum information from NPGS/GRIN". USDA GRIN Taxonomy. January 23, 2007. Retrieved 2012-02-02.
- Zeldes, Leah A. (April 5, 2010). "Ramping up: Chicago by any other name would smell as sweet". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant & Entertainment Guide, Inc. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
- Core, Earl L. (April 15, 1973). "Cult of the Ramp Eaters". Charleston Gazette-Mail. Reprinted in the same author's book: Core, Earl L. (1975). The Wondrous Year: West Virginia Through the Seasons. Grantsville, West Virginia: Seneca Books. pp. 46–51.
- Swenson, John F. (Winter 1991). "Chicago: Meaning of the Name and Location of Pre-1800 European Settlements". Early Chicago. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
- Miller, Tom D. (October 5, 2012). "Jim Comstock". West Virginia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
- "Ramps in the Ink". Goldenseal 20: 23. Winter 1994. Comstock had been inspired by the scratch-and-sniff advertising for perfume and coffee in several local papers. The issue in question announced the Richwood Ramp Supper by lacing the printer's ink for the spring issue with ramp juice. According to Comstock, "We got a reprimand from the Postmaster General ... And we are probably the only paper in the United States that's under oath to the federal government not to smell bad".
- Davis, Jeanine M.; Greenfield, Jacqulyn. "Cultivating Ramps: Wild Leeks of Appalachia". Purdue University. Archived from the original on 2011-05-10. Retrieved 2011-05-06.
- Block, Eric (2010). Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and the Science. Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry. ISBN 978-0-85404-190-9.
- Davies, Dilys (1992). Alliums: The Ornamental Onions. Portland: Timber Press.
- Woodward, Penny (1996). Garlic and Friends: The History, Growth and Use of Edible Alliums. South Melbourne: Hyland House.
- Snow, Jane (April 21, 2004). "Hankering For Ramps". Akron Beacon Journal. E1, E4-E5.
- "Ramp Festivals, Feast of the Ramson Ramps". Retrieved 2012-02-17.
- "Ramps & Rails Festival". West Virginia Department of Commerce. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
- "Cosby Ramp Festival". Tennessee Vacation. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
- "Flag Pond, Unicoi County, Tennessee". Retrieved 2011-10-26.
- "Whitetop Mountain Ramp Festival". Grayson County, VA website. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
- Core 1975, p. 51.
- "Regulation respecting threatened or vulnerable plant species and their habitats". Gazette officielle. Éditeur officiel du Québec. April 25, 2007. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
- "Garlic lovers answer the call of the wild". Globe and Mail. May 21, 2007. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
- "NRCS: USDA Plants Profile and map: A. tricoccum". USDA. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
- Core, Earl Lemley (1945). "Ramps". Castanea 10:110-112.
- Davies, D. (1992). Alliums: The Ornamental Onions. Portland: Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-241-2.
- Facemire, Glen. (2009). Having your ramps and eating them too. Parsons, WV: McClain Printing. ISBN 978-0-87012-783-0.
- Woodward, P. (1996). Garlic and Friends: The History, Growth and Use of Edible Alliums. South Melbourne: Hyland House. ISBN 1-875657-62-2.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Allium tricoccum.|
- Wild Leeks – April's Wild Food of the Month! Forager Press. 2006. Retrieved 10 March 2013.