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:
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.