The Transylvania Times -

By Joe Robustelli
Transylvania Extension Master Gardener 

Ramps Season Is Here With Festivals Planned

 


While attending the University of Tennessee, in the early ‘70s, I can remember seeing announcements for early spring ramps festivals in small mountain towns of eastern Tennessee. Born and raised in the Bronx, I had no idea what ramps were.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum), also known as wild leek, grow throughout the mountainous eastern United States from South Carolina to Canada. In Western North Carolina, they appear between the time snow melts in the mountains and the eruption of leaves on trees. The ramp, a member of the lily family, looks like a scallion and tastes of a cross between onion and garlic. They have broad, lily-of-the-valley-like leaves with a slender stem that connects to a one-half inch white bulb.

Ramps are welcomed as the first “greens” of the season and are high in vitamins A and E, important for healthy teeth, bones and skin and a good working immune system. During the local season, ramps may be purchased at the Western North Carolina Farmers’ Market on Brevard Road in Asheville, at local farmers’ markets and roadside vegetable stands.

Being a lover of spicy food, I have no problem with the ramp’s pungent flavor which some say hangs on for days after eating soups, eggs or potatoes cooked with ramps. I‘ve not found this to be true. My wife and I agree that ramps are particularly good when combined with other ingredients in a beef or lamb stew. I have often heard that people enjoy eating ramps with eggs and found a traditional recipe by Diana Rattray at south ernfood.about.com:

Scrambled Eggs

With Ramps:

1 to 2 pounds ramps, cleaned and diced; 6 large eggs, beaten; salt and pepper to taste; 3 to 4 tablespoons bacon drippings. Parboil ramps for about 10 minutes; drain well. Over medium heat, warm bacon drippings in large skillet; add drained ramps. Add eggs, salt and pepper; stir constantly until eggs are cooked. Garnish with cooked diced bacon, if desired. Serve immediately. Delicious with cornbread, potatoes, and meat or fish; serves 6 to 8.  

Many regional ramp festivals provide an excellent opportunity to enjoy ramp dishes and hear Appalachian music. I’ve found the following, although more are undoubtedly available with on-line research. Contact individual festivals to confirm details.

Cherokee, N.C .: Ramps and Rainbow Festival, Saturday, March 29. Annual festival held at Indian Fairgrounds on opening day of fishing. Elders and families gather to eat, play games and listen to regionally popular music. 

Robbinsville, Graham County, NC: Ramp Fest, last week in April. Rompin-Stomping concert and Appalachian Dinner at Stecoah Arts Center. Ramp dinner sponsored by Graham County Volunteer Rescue Squad, Robbins-ville.

Waynesville, Annual Ramp Convention, Hay-wood County, NC: Sunday, May 4. Celebrate ramps by sampling a variety of dishes that include the wild ramp while listening to country and bluegrass music.

Flag Pond, Tenn. Ramp-Fest: Variety of live bluegrass, country, and gospel bands playing favorite down-home songs; also crafts and children’s events. Contact Flag Pond Ruritan Club. 

Ramps are usually foraged for and harvested from the wild, although over-gathering in some areas has damaged wild populations and led to restrictions. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee, harvesting was banned in 2004. If you plan to forage for ramps, be sure to verify with the landowner, public or private, any regulations that may affect harvesting.

On-going research indicates that cultivation of ramps should be strongly encouraged although cultural information is still limited. They appear to do well in areas that host woodland flowers such as bloodroot, trillium, ginseng, may apple and trout lily. Gardeners can grow ramps from seed, but establishing a plot takes several years. Responsibly transplanting rhizomes from the wild is another method.

In Western North Carolina, February to mid-March is the best time for planting purchased or transplanted bulbs, providing harvestable ramps within two to three years. Keep your eyes open locally since some native plant nurseries are selling pots of ramps; an on-line search will result in sources for plants and seeds.

Consult the North Carolina State University website at http://www.ces.ncsu. edu/hil/hil-133.html for an excellent information leaf-let on ramp cultivation.

Expand your culinary palate by eating the first green vegetable of the New Year, whether you attend a ramp festival or experiment in your own kitchen.

(Do you have a question for the Master Gardeners or a subject you would like to see addressed in this column? Send your questions to The Transyl-vania Times or email us at hgraygood@aol.com note “Master Gardener” in the subject line.)

 
 

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