Ramps, wild and on the menu

Supercharge your senses with this potent, punchy wild leek.
It’s the limited release of the season: ramps! Harvest these plants or treat yourself to a seasonal meal in the New River Gorge. Either way, you’re in for an Appalachian treat.

Wild, wonderful … and in-demand!

It’s the best of both worlds: a wild leek that tastes like garlic. The moment ramps raise their leaves above the moist soil, locals know winter is over … and 2 months of feasting is in sight.
These plants are no longer a regional specialty, either. Even though ramps grow in eastern portions of the country, chefs as far as California order them every spring. Clearly, flavor recognizes no boundaries. Some folks even claim that ramps have a sharper, bolder taste than its domestic relatives.
Plus, Allium tricoccum’s season is short. It grows in thick clusters from April to May before withering away for the year. To hobbyist cooks and 5-star chefs alike, that limited duration is enough to inspire bursts of creativity— and maybe a little hysteria.

Get digging

Hunting and gathering accounts for the ramp’s appeal, too. It’s satisfying to bring home something you found yourself, fresh from the woods. Suddenly, you’re part of the farm-to-table movement!
Here’s what to look for:

  • Characteristics: Smooth, broad leaves that taper to a pinkish stem. Ramp bulbs are roughly the size of your thumb.
  • Location: Look beneath oaks, sugar maples, birch, or buckeye trees. Ramps like shade, and will thickly carpet the forest floor. This makes them easy to spot.
  • Odor: Ramps make identification a cinch with that distinctive, garlicky aroma. Don’t smell anything? Leave that plant alone!

It’s also worth keeping in mind that ramps, like anything natural, can be over-harvested. If you stumble across a wild patch, take only what you need. Once you harvest the whole plant, snip off the roots and replant them where you found them. Another solution is to snip off one leaf per plant. That way, the bulb stays in the ground and the plant will grow next year.

What’s for dinner?

You don’t have to dig around for forest-to-table flavor, though. That’s because New River Gorge restaurants also get into the ramp frenzy. In fact, local chefs scrounge around for these wild delicacies themselves.
Here’s where you can sit back and savor those garlicky ramps— no foraging required:
Secret Sandwich Society
This restaurant is renowned for its flavorful, creative burgers, sandwiches, and salads. Virtually everything is made in-house, too. Even the pickles and ketchup are homemade!
Aside from its year-round menu, Secret Sandwich Society— also known as SSS— sometimes boasts specials. (Hint: count on A. tricoccum to make an appearance in spring.) In the past, ramp soup was on the menu. Be sure to call ahead or check their social media pages for specials.
The Station
Local ingredients, innovative entrees, and a sleek but casual ambience make this Fayetteville attraction a hit. The menu changes based on seasonality, too. Depending on the time of year, you might find Guinness-braised meat quesadillas; pan-seared trout with crispy polenta and green beans; or shepherd’s pie with Rainbow Farm chicken.
The Station takes full advantage of whatever is growing, and ramps are no exception. Call and ask how the chef is preparing them. Based on his whim, he might use the onions as a garnish or tuck them into burgers, pasta, risotto, or soup.
How do you like to eat ramps?