Ramps, aka wild onions, have been elevated to delicacy status

04/23/2012 5:00 AM

04/25/2012 6:17 AM

Questions this week have ranged from ramps to rhubarb. I am wondering how many of you know about ramps. The question about them intrigued me, and I did a little research and discovered that they have multiple names, including one that was very familiar to me. Now, the questions:

Q. Do you know anything about a vegetable called ramps? Do you know if they are available locally? I’m a big fan of leeks, so I’ll want to try some if I can find them.

A. The scientific name for ramps is Allium tricoccum, but they are also known as wild onions, spring onions, wild leeks and wild garlic. Early in the spring, ramps grow wild and are found primarily in the eastern mountainous areas where the locals gather them, then fry them with potatoes in bacon fat or scramble them with eggs.

In the rural areas, ramps were considered a spring tonic as they were the first green plant to emerge in the spring after a long winter with no fresh vegetables. They provided vitamins and minerals.

Once I realized ramps were the same thing as wild onions, I remembered them distinctly from my childhood. Although we did not gather them to consume, I do recall drinking milk from cows that had been feasting on ramps.

For a week or so in the spring, the milk would have an off-flavor. Then my dad would announced the herd had found wild onions in the pasture that flavored the milk. Within a few days, the milk was back to normal. I never knew whether the season for the ramps was over or whether the cows had devoured every last one. I think it must have been the latter.

Recently, ramps have been rediscovered. Suddenly, they have been elevated to a delicacy status. Chefs have been serving ramps in white-tablecloth restaurants. Also, annual festivals celebrate this pungent plant. As the demand grows, the intense harvesting of the wild plants is seriously threatening the existence of ramps.

Since almost all ramps are harvested from the wild, there is little information on cultivating them. However, North Carolina State University is in the process of researching sustainable production of ramps. Because ramps are not grown commercially, they are seldom available in local markets. Sometimes you might find them at farmers markets.

Q. I have a recipe for rhubarb and need to have three cups cooked rhubarb. How many stalks should I buy for this recipe?

A. Usually you can figure on one pound of rhubarb to yield two cups cooked rhubarb. So you would purchase about one and a half pounds fresh rhubarb. When using fresh rhubarb, discard the leaves and only use the stalks.

A. Is Boston butt the same thing as pork shoulder?

Q. When Joe Linot from Cargill taught the meat class in the Cooking 101 series, he had a great chart that showed exactly where the Boston butt was on the animal — the upper part of the pork shoulder. It is often smoked and used for barbecued pork.

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