Ramps

OK, I'll Bite: What Are Ramps?

And what's all the fuss about?

April 13, 2021
Photo by Julia Gartland

If you see a crowd gathering around a stall at your local farmers market any time between mid-April and early June, odds are you’ve stumbled across someone selling ramps. Let me tell you, nothing gets people who know and love ramps more excited than seeing those first green leaves on a warm spring morning. Of course, by appearance alone, they’re simply yet another plant in a sea of green at the market. So, what’s all the fuss about? What are ramps?

What Are Ramps, Anyway?

Ramps (allium tricoccum), sometimes referred to as wild leeks or wild garlic, are technically a wild onion that grow most abundantly in the eastern and central U.S. and Canada (though you can find them showing their verdant heads in a couple other southern and western American states). Ramp patches typically begin to sprout in wooded areas around early April, and last until May or early June.

With a slim bulb and a couple long, flat leaves, ramps, which grow in clumps, taste more pungent than scallions, yet less sharp than raw onion. But that still doesn’t quite put their majesty into words. Considering that there are a few Ramp Heads on the Food52 Editorial team, I asked for some help: “They kind of taste like scallions on vacation. Like, if scallions were a little mellower and in a better mood, just having a good time and living their best life,” says CB Owens, copy editor. “To me, ramps look like willowy scallions all dressed up in translucent pink stripes and feathery green headbands,” adds senior editor Jess Kapadia. “If they were an indie rock band, they'd be called the Leafy Scallionettes, and they would shred.”

Why Do People Lose Their Sh*t Over Ramps?

In a word: hype. Similar a limited edition sneaker drop, ramps literally come into and out of season lickety-split, and if you miss them one week, there may not be more the following. Hype begets hype, and the more people feel they can’t miss out and go buy a bunch, the more scarce ramps become.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I was going to write the same thing! I've been able to successfully transplant ramps from the farmer's market (if they have roots attached) to a shady spot in my back yard. It's still a small patch (3 years old - they've gone from a clump of 5-6 to a clump of ~20 in that time), and I only harvest the green tops and leave the bulbs to spread/regenerate. Nothing better on a pizza than some ramp tops! They're also fantastic grilled or charred, or battered & deep fried, and they make a mean potato-ramp soup. ”
— Carolyn
Comment

Unlike exclusive brand launches, it’s not that anyone is choosing to limit ramp availability, per se. Ramps, which require a specific woodland environment to grow, take years to fully mature (which is why they’re not often farmed, rather foraged), and are often harvested in a way that disturbs regeneration.

“It was estimated that a conservatively harvested (10 percent taken) ramp patch required ten years to recover...Ramp seeds take six to eighteen months to germinate, often requiring two winters and warm springs to emerge as spindly grass-like spikes,” writes Marie Viljoen in Forage, Harvest, Feast: A Wild-Inspired Cuisine. “The new plant grows for three to five years before it can reproduce...Current wild harvests, while feeding our still-burgeoning appetite for ramps, will ensure their demise.”

Essentially, it’s generally understood that the wild ramp population is at risk every time a bulb is removed from the ground. Officially, the USDA classifies ramps as plants of “special concern” in just Maine, Rhode Island, and Tennessee (also designated as “commercially exploited” in the latter). As of 1995, Quebec has actually banned their harvest, which has led to a black market of ramp smuggling—a movie about which I would one hundred percent watch, just saying.

To those who are foraging ramps, Viljoen recommends gathering only from areas where they’re bountiful, and then taking just one thick, mature bulb—not any younger, thinner bulbs—from a clump of ramps, clipped above the root, leaving some of the bulb in the ground. Better yet, Viljoen suggests foragers take only ramp leaves, and just a few from each cluster.

So, Should I Buy Ramps?

I think of ramps the same way I think of meat: I’ll buy them, but not too many, and I’ll make sure to use them as quickly as possible to ensure none go to waste. The first time I see ramps at the farmer’s market in April, I’m usually clawing my way out of a deep-winter sadness, and that first sighting thaws my whole body. I’ll probably buy some this year too, making sure to seek out those sold without roots or by foragers who are willing to discuss their practice with me.

In addition to farmers markets (if you’re in New York City, check out Mountain Sweet Berry Farm at the Union Square Farmers Market), you can find ramps from certain online retailers, including Etsy; again, it’s best to check to make sure any ramps purchased online were also foraged sustainably.

How to Eat Ramps

“When I hear ramps, I think: pickle them! And eat them as a snack. Or drop one into a martini,” says food editor Emma Lapperuque. “But since I saw this photo from Misi—grilled bread, whipped ricotta, and charred ramps—all I can think is...grilled bread, whipped ricotta, and charred ramps. I want that.” Me too, Emma, me too.

But if you’re looking for more ideas, we’ve got you covered.

Ramp Pesto Pizza With Za'atar Roasted Tomatoes & a Runny Egg

Ramp Carbonara

Sweet & Spicy Pickled Ramps

Georgian Khachapuri Filled With Ramps, Green Onions, Herbs, & Cheese

Grilled Chicken With Ramps & Rhubarb Chutney

Smashed Potato & Ramp Frittata

Have you tried ramps? How do you like to eat them? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • insan_art
    insan_art
  • Kelly
    Kelly
  • Honey&Lavender
    Honey&Lavender
  • PistachioDoughnut
    PistachioDoughnut
  • Hilary
    Hilary
Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. Her writing has appeared in TASTE, The Strategist, Eater, and Bon Appetit's Healthyish and Basically. She contributed recipes and words to the book "Breakfast: The Most Important Book About the Best Meal of the Day." Once upon a time, she studied theatre design and art history at Smith College, so if you need a last-minute avocado costume or want to talk about Wayne Thiebaud's cakes, she's your girl. She tests all recipes with Diamond Crystal kosher salt. You can follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.

9 Comments

insan_art April 20, 2021
I appreciate the discussion of sustainable harvesting here, however, I am appalled at the photo included at the top of the article. Those ramps were harvested WAY too early and then the best part of the bulbs have been cut off?!?!?!?!?!
How wasteful.
Also, I'll never understand folks who sell ramps that dig them when they are pencil thin. Why not wait another month when the bulb has filled out more? They're still just as tender and tasty...and you're getting double the product.
 
Kelly April 15, 2021
Please show a video of what parts are edible and what parts are waste. I just received 3 bulbs from my CSA and recognize the little bulge that show in recipes calling for ramps but what to do with the stalks? Bulb?
 
insan_art April 20, 2021
The entire plant is edible.
 
insan_art April 20, 2021
Also, in the photo above they cut off way too much of the bulb. Totally wasteful.
 
Honey&Lavender April 15, 2021
Please encourage your readers to buy ramps that have been conservatively cut, not pulled or dug. As you say, they grow best wild and it takes 7-10 years to get a mature plant. Selfish foragers are devastating entire areas where we used to gather some each spring. The bulbs are delicious but the leaves and stems are just as special.
 
PistachioDoughnut April 15, 2021
@rebecca Firkser - It's really interesting to me that you have highlighted a recipe here that's has been stolen but do not share the actual recipe that person has stolen from. The member does not say anything about where the recipe is adapted from or stolen from. Total shame. We can do better!

Check out this recipe stolen by another member -
https://food52.com/recipes/17230-ramp-rhubarb-chutney
 
Hilary April 14, 2021
About 25 years ago, I started transplanting ramps from large, wild, forest patches to a perfect, semi-damp, shady spot near my house. I brought small clumps each year for maybe five years. Then I waited. I finally started harvesting (SO conservatively) two years ago. This past weekend, I dug up a teeny patch, cleaned them, charred them in my cast iron pan, and baked them with mushrooms and goat cheese on a puff pastry base. The whole thing got drizzled with balsamic glaze upon emerging from the oven.
The family was very happy.
 
Carolyn April 15, 2021
I was going to write the same thing! I've been able to successfully transplant ramps from the farmer's market (if they have roots attached) to a shady spot in my back yard. It's still a small patch (3 years old - they've gone from a clump of 5-6 to a clump of ~20 in that time), and I only harvest the green tops and leave the bulbs to spread/regenerate.

Nothing better on a pizza than some ramp tops! They're also fantastic grilled or charred, or battered & deep fried, and they make a mean potato-ramp soup.
 
insan_art April 20, 2021
I live in a part of Pennsylvania where ramps are abundant and I happened to purchase a property 11 years ago with a small patch on it. I've been babying that patch for this whole time and I'm going to harvest some bulbs for the first time this year for a very special recipe (won't post it because it's from another website).