My Mamaw Flotie (Great-Grandmother) always called ramps her spring tonic. Each year sometime after Easter and when the daffodils were all blooming, she would say “Jake, time for a dose of my spring tonic” and my Papaw would show up later in the day with a mess of ramps he had been digging. My Papaw was always digging something up in the mountains – ginseng, ramps, mushrooms, and all kinds of medicinal roots. The next morning Nanny, my grandmother — Flotie’s oldest daughter, would wake me up opening the bedroom window. I would then smell the aromas of breakfast. Spring tonic was ready, all the aunts were there, and all the windows in the house were open to “blow the stink out”. After breakfast, the men already gone to work, all the kids were sent out to play for the day and spring cleaning would commence. We would spend the day roaming the woods and playing in the creek or swimming in the river just being kids exploring, catching green snakes and crawdads, building forts and running in and out dirtying the floors while all the women were trying to clean. Screen door slamming.
[clickToTweet tweet=”FUN FACT: Chicago is a corruption of the French misspelling (chicagou) of the indigenous peoples’ word for ramps – shikaakwa. ” quote=”FUN FACT: Chicago is a corruption of the French misspelling (chicagou) of the indigenous peoples’ word for ramps shikaakwa. The name was first recorded by 17th-century explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, and explained by his comrade, naturalist-diarist Henri Joutel.” theme=”style3″]
So, what exactly are ramps?
Mamaw always said they were an especially pungent wild onion, and Papaw called them a wild garlic but they are actually
Allium tricoccum is a bulb-forming perennial with broad, smooth, light green leaves, often with deep purple or burgundy tints on the lower stems, and a scallion-like stalk and bulb. Both the white lower leaf stalks and the broad green leaves are edible. The flower stalk appears after the leaves have died back, unlike the similar Allium ursinum, in which leaves and flowers can be seen at the same time. Ramps grow in close groups strongly rooted just beneath the surface of the soil.
(According to Wikipedia )
Call them ramps, spring onions, wild onions, ramsons, wild leeks or wild garlic, as Mamaw Flotie would say “hit don’t matter what ya call’em they’ll cure what ails ye”.
Ramps have a high vitamin C content and blood-cleansing properties which made them highly prized by indigenous Americans and Appalachians. The Cherokee ate ramps to treat colds and the croup. The Chippewa decocted the root to induce vomiting and the Iroquois used it to treat intestinal worms.
Ramps are famous for their pungent smell it is said that you can smell ramps cooking a mile away. Some people claim the smell makes them nauseous but for us ramp lovers it just makes us hungry. Famous West Virginia teacher and newspaperman Jim Comstock said “Don’t let the horror stories about ramp odor scare you off . . . .a ramp is just an onion that hasn’t been civilized or had the fear of the Lord driven into it.”
If you are considering hunting your own ramps please do it responsibly. Ramps might be trendy right now but for Appalachians, they are part of our culture. In many areas ramps are disappearing because people are not harvesting them correctly. It takes several years for ramps to grow into the proper size to eat so going in and clearing out a patch you find will ensure that next year there will be no ramps. Here is a good resource on how to sustainably harvest ramps so that they are around for many generations.
[clickToTweet tweet=”FUN FACT: West Virginia has a law that states – No children may attend school with their breath smelling of ‘wild onions.’ In other words, you can’t eat ramps and go to school.” quote=”FUN FACT: West Virginia has a law that states – No children may attend school with their breath smelling of ‘wild onions.’ In other words, you can’t eat ramps and go to school” theme=”style3″]
And how do you cook them?
You treat ramps like garlic or onions. Here in Appalachia, we see them more like something to cook with food and not really something to eat alone. Since chefs and hipsters in major cities have discovered the existence of ramps, they have become somewhat of a delicacy and are used in some interesting ways that we would have never thought of in Appalachia. Here we eat food that is basic and gives you the full belly you need to do a hard days work.
I am going to share my Mamaw’s recipe and a new one we tried this year that turned out really good. I cook like all the women in my family, with my eyeballs, so I am totally guessing at any measurements that are listed. We use measurements like a handful, a drop, some, couple of sprinkles, mess, a good size, enough for a grown man, not too much, etc. In the recipes passed down in my family, it is hard to find a real measurement written anywhere so bare with me and my guestimations.
I have collected some of recipes and information in a Pinterest board that you can check out.
Mamaw Flotie's Spring Tonic
This is my twist on my Great- Grandmother’s Spring Tonic Ramp Recipe
- 6 ramps cleaned and chopped ( this is based on how much you like ramps)
- 1/4 lb bacon chopped
- 1 med onion diced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 bag frozen o'brien hashbrowns
- 4 lg eggs (optional)
Saute the chopped onions, bacon, and ramps over a medium-high heat until the onions and bacon brown just a little.
- Remove them from the skillet and move to the side.
- Using the same skillet pour in the olive oil and the frozen hash browns. Toss with salt and pepper to taste.
- On top of the hashbrowns pour your bacon, onion, ramp mixture and cover with a lid.
- Cook on medium-low flipping occasionally until done. Usually about 20 minutes or so.
Eggs – (optional)
Crack the eggs in a bowl and stir adding salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour eggs over cooked ingredients in skillet and mix until the eggs are thoroughly cooked.
- I am proud to say that even though I modified her recipe for a busy and healthy lifestyle, I did still cook it in her iron skillet that she passed down to me.
- Mamaw Flotie would have used 6 or 8 real potatoes that she sat on the front porch and peeled and diced with her paring knife. She would have used fresh eggs gathered that morning. She would not have used olive oil but bacon grease that she kept in a can on the stove.
- Depending on how many were there for breakfast, she would have added diced ham and maybe some sausage with the bacon.
- This would have been served with fresh biscuits and sausage gravy, sliced fresh tomatoes, and peaches she canned last summer.
[clickToTweet tweet=”I just found Mamaw Flotie’s Appalachian Spring Tonic Recipe. You should check it out.” quote=”I just found Mamaw Flotie’s Appalachian Spring Tonic Recipe. You should check it out.” theme=”style3″]
Ramp Shrimp Scampi
This is a new spin on an old classic.
- 1 lb shrimp peeled fresh or frozen (We use the small frozen ones)
- 4 large ramps chopped
- 4 cloves garlic sliced
- 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning mix
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 1/2 cup white wine or chicken broth
- 1 lemon
- 1 small pkg Angel hair pasta cooked
In a large skillet over a medium-high heat saute the garlic in the butter and olive oil until the garlic caramelizes.
- Add in the white wine (or broth) bring to a boil and then reduce to medium heat. Cook uncovered for a few minutes until the wine/broth reduces.
Add the shrimp, ramps, and Italian seasonings saute on medium heat stirring often until shrimp is a nice pinkish color. About 2 to 3 minutes. Do Not overcook the shrimp. It makes them hard and chewy
- When the shrimp is done add the COOKED angel hair pasta to the skillet, squeeze the lemon over the top and toss. Serve immediately.
- For traditional shrimp scampi replace the ramps with parsley.
- We would serve this with a couple sliced lemons and parmesan cheese on the side, a balsamic salad, and homemade garlic bread.
- This is an easy fast weeknight recipe but it is also a nice date night meal.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Ever had Shrimp Scamp with Ramps? Here’s a great recipe for it straight from Appalachia. ” quote=”Ever had Shrimp Scamp with Ramps? Here’s a great recipe for it straight from Appalachia. ” theme=”style3″]
I hope you learned something about one of my favorite Appalachian foods and how we like to eat them. Let me know what you think of my recipes. These are the first real recipes I have ever written for my blog. Hope they are written right, but if they are not I’m sure my food blogger friends will let me know.
Ever heard of ramps before? Did you try out these recipes?
Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.
13 thoughts on “What are Ramps and How Do You Cook Them?”
My Momaw always had a can of bacon grease on her stove. I miss the mountains and it always feels like a a big warm hug when I go back. Thank you for a little trip down memory lane.
You’re welcome for the trip down memory lane. I too think the mountains feel like a hug. I feel very secure in the mountains like the earth is cradling me.
This is fascinating!
I doubt if ramps survive the winter kill up here in Maine, but the equivalent delicacy in these parts is the fiddle head. And I’ve read stories about settlers in this area longing for the first sign of dandelion greens because their gums were bleeding and they had been living on half spoiled bear meat for most of the late winter-early spring days.
That generation had it all over on us softies!
Dandelion greens are a thing around here too but I’ve never had fiddle head. What is it?
I can remember my grandma pulling and cooking ramps too. How about poke? Did your family eat poke? My grandma’s “spring tonic” was stronger than ramps, though, and was made in secret down in the hollow, away from the eyes of the ATF men!
Yes, we ate poke salad as my Mamaw called it. My Mamaw never touched the strong stuff but I’m sure it wasn’t just digging that was happening up on that mountain when my Papaw went up there. 🙂
Some useful Recipe ideas in the post. Thanks for sharing them.
So fun! I had heard of them, but didn’t know how to use them. Loved the story and the law in VW! Thanks for sharing with SYC.
I wish there was someone around here that could show me what to look for. I’d love to try these! Thanks for sharing at the What’s for Dinner party – and Happy Mother’s Day!
I have heard of ramps, but not sure that I’ve ever seen any, though my husband recently claims he found some growing on our property. 🙂
I’ve never heard of ramps before – learned something new! Not sure if they grow in Texas?? Thanks for sharing at The Blogger’s Pit Stop! Roseann from This Autoimmune Life
This is totally new to me. Never heard of these things called ramps. Love learning new things. Found you on Blogger’s Pit Stop.
What a great story and recipe! We call them wild onions around here and they do seem to have a wonderful healing power! They used to grow wild at our old house. I wish they still grew in our yard! I’d love to cook with them!