|Wild leek or ramp|
|Allium tricoccum |
Ramps grow in groups strongly rooted just beneath the surface of the soil. They are found from the U.S. state of South Carolina to Canada. They are popular in the cuisines of the rural upland South and in the Canadian province of Quebec when they emerge in the springtime. They have a growing popularity in upscale restaurants throughout North America.
History and folkloreA thick growth of ramps near Lake Michigan in Illinois in the 17th century gave the city of Chicago its name, after the area was described by 17th-century explorer Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, and explained by his comrade, naturalist-diarist Henri Joutel. The plant called Chicagou in the language of native tribes was once thought to be Allium cernuum, the nodding wild onion, but research in the early 1990s showed the correct plant was the ramp.
The ramp has strong associations with the folklore of the central Appalachian Mountains. Fascination and humor have fixated on the plant's extreme pungency. Jim and Bronson Comstock founded The West Virginia Hillbilly, a weekly humor and heritage newspaper, in 1957, and ramps were a frequent topic. For one legendary issue, Jim Comstock introduced ramp juice into the printer's ink, invoking the ire of the Postmaster General.
The mountain folk of Appalachia have long celebrated spring with the arrival of the ramp, believing it to have great power as a tonic to ward off many ailments of winter. A ramp bath was featured in the film Where the Lilies Bloom (1974) about life in North Carolina.
Culinary uses or as food writer Jane Snow once described it, "like fried green onions with a dash of funky feet," is adaptable to almost any food style.
In central Appalachia, ramps are most commonly fried with potatoes in bacon fat or scrambled with eggs and served with bacon, pinto beans, and cornbread. Ramps can also be pickled or used in soups and other foods in place of onions and garlic.
- The community of Richwood, West Virginia, holds the annual "Feast of the Ramson" in April. Sponsored by the National Ramp Association, the "Ramp Feed" (as it is locally known) brings thousands of ramp aficionados from considerable distances to sample foods featuring the plant. During the ramp season (late winter through early spring), restaurants in the town serve a wide variety of foods containing wild leeks.
- The city of Elkins, West Virginia, hosts the "International Ramp Festival" during the last weekend in April of each year. This festival features a cook-off and ramp eating contests, and is attended by several hundred people each year.
- The town of Cosby, Tennessee, bordering Great Smoky Mountains National Park, has held the largest and one of the oldest ramp festivals in the United States, the "Cosby Ramp Festival," on the first weekend in May since 1954. The festival has played host to as many as 30,000 visitors in years past, and has been attended by ex-President Harry Truman and has featured such notable musical acts as Tennessee Ernie Ford, Eddy Arnold, Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Minnie Pearl, and Brenda Lee. Besides the food, heritage music, dancing, and adulation of the ramp, each year a young woman is crowned "Maid of Ramps".
- The community of Whitetop, Virginia, holds its annual ramp festival the third weekend in May. It is sponsored by the Mount Rogers volunteer fire department and features local old time music from Wayne Henderson and other bands and a barbecued chicken feast complete with fried potatoes and ramps and local green beans. A ramp-eating contest is held for children through adults.
- At the "Ramp It Up! Festival" held in the Native American outpost of Cherokee, North Carolina on the eastern side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, ramps and rainbow trout are the focus,
- On the border of West Virginia and Pennsylvania near Interstate 79 is Mason Dixon Park, which hosts the "Mason-Dixon Ramp Festival" typically on the third weekend in April. This festival is unique in having a "ramp rally", where ramp lovers pulling Serro Scotty campers gather to celebrate ramps and these famous 1950s RVs which were built in this area.
- In Bradford, Pennsylvania, on the first Saturday in May, is an annual event called "Stinkfest." Local food vendors, providing Chinese, German, Italian, and traditional American cuisine, offer their dishes with ramps included. Highlights include the dip tasting contest, the outhouse races (where teams from local business build rolling outhouses and power them down the main thoroughfare), and appearances by local musical groups.
Conservation issuesIn Canada, wild leeks are considered rare delicacies. Since the growth of leeks is not as widespread as in Appalachia and because of destructive human practices, wild leeks are a threatened species in Quebec.
legislation. A person may have wild leek in his or her possession outside its natural environment or may harvest it for the purposes of personal consumption in an annual quantity not exceeding 200 grams of any of its parts or a maximum of 50 bulbs or 50 plants, provided that those activities do not take place in a park within the meaning of the parks act. The protected status also prohibits any commercial transactions of wild leeks; this prevents restaurants from serving wild leeks as is done in the United States. Failure to comply with these laws is punishable by a fine. However, the law does not always stop poachers, who find a ready market across the border in Ontario (especially in the Ottawa area), where wild leeks may be legally harvested and sold.
Ramps are considered a species of "special concern" for conservation in Maine, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. They are also considered "commercially exploited" in Tennessee. Ramp festivals may encourage harvest in unsustainable quantities.