I’m New To Ramps. What Are They?
Ramps are nourishing harbingers of spring, breaking through lingering snow and ice. A foraged delicacy, their leaves, stalk and bulb are edible. They are sweetish with a slight pungency. A perennial wild onion with a pungent garlic odor with leek/onion flavor, it is found in Eastern North America from South Carolina to Canada. Also known as wild leek, wood leek, spring onion, wild garlic.
The plant has broad smooth light green 10” long leaves often with a hint of deep purple or burgundy on the lower stems. It has a scallion like stalk producing a flower and the bulb measures half an inch round. Plant leaves wither as the seed stalk develops, flowering in June-July. The preferred habitat is sandy, loamy moist soil under the woodlands canopy. Growing in dense colonies they can be found near streams and under trees. (Beech, Sugar Maple, Birch, Poplar, Hickory, Oak, Linden and Buckeye).
Raw or cooked in soups, pesto, accompanying egg dishes and sauteed with seasonal foraged wild greens, morels and April’s Shad harvest. After winter months with few fresh greens available this ingredient brings forth earthy flavors and revitalizes the palate. Thoreau referred to eating ramps as a “tonic of the wilderness.”
Ramps have been embraced by the Appalachian Mountain region. West Virginia is considered the heart of ramp country, where one will find numerous festivals celebrating the harvest.
What About That Name?
In Old English, the plant (although a slightly different one, since the ramp you’re likely to run into in the U.S. is a different species of wild leek) was a hramsa, which is similar to the word in Old German (ramese), which led to similar words in all the Scandinavian languages. And in Old English, when you wanted to pluralize some words, you didn’t add -s, you added -en. That formation isn’t productive anymore (nobody’s going around talking about “laptopen” and “iPaden”), but it’s how we got words like “oxen” and “children.” So hramsa turned into hramsen, which then led to the same plant being called both “rams” and “ramson,” with a double-plural “ramsons” thrown in sometimes for good measure.
Then, just for ease of pronunciation, people started popping a “p” in there, making “ramps.” This happens sometimes (we added an “n” to “passenger” and “messenger” from the French passager and messager, just because we felt like it), and probably just came from generations of little kids deciding that “ramps” was easier to say than “rams” (next up: spaghetti-pasketti). But, like “ramson” and “ramsons” before it, somewhere along the way we forgot that “rams” was actually the singular, and started calling a lonely “ramps” a “ramp.”
Interesting! Where Can I Buy Some?