The Taming of the Ramps

By Ian Knauer
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Ian Knauer


What's the big deal about ramps?

Well, first off, they're pretty delicious in a way that is both familiar and very different from their lily cousins. Nary a combination of garlic, scallion, and leek could ever quite match the wild musk that fills your head when you chomp down on a ramp. If the onion family were a line of perfumes, then the ramp would be Sex Panther by Odeon. Or maybe even BK Flame. Needless to say, pretty powerful stuff.

But that's not all.

Ramps have cleverly made themselves scarce, thereby increasing demand. They have a very short season (only about six weeks in the spring) and they have the reputation for being uncultivable. The limited season situation is true, and seemingly unavoidable. But the theory of cultivability is a nasty rumor spread, no doubt, but those who could benefit from ramp scarcity: money-hungry farmers.

I can't get too upset at farmers and foragers for wanting to bump up their prices, but I'm here to tell you that it doesn't have to be this way. You, too, can grow your own ramps. All you'll need are some ramps to get started with and a sugar maple or oak tree close to a wet, swampy area in the Eastern United States. Not too much to ask for, really.

Ramps reproduce two ways, lucky bastards. They flower and go to seed, like most plants. Those seeds then drop and make new plants. But you'll have lots of trouble finding these seeds. Ramps also reproduce by way of bulbs. This is the key to your future ramp garden. When you buy ramps at the farmers' market, make sure they come with the roots.

Before you cook with the ramps you've procured, remove the bottom half-inch of bulb, keeping the roots attached. Store them overnight, covered by room temperature water. The next day, plant them in the damp soil around your eastern oak or maple and then forget about them for a year.

Or, spend the next 11 months dreaming about the ramps and their sacred scent of desire, like I do.

I planted six ramp bulbs two years ago. Last year six ramps popped up in early April. I ate them, leaving the bulbs in the ground. This year, I've found 11 so far. With any luck, I'll have 20 by next year. Now you can do it too, tiger.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/03/the-taming-of-the-ramps/38207/