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Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are a type of early blooming onion that grow in the soil-rich deciduous forests of North America. They can be found in high concentrations along the eastern U.S. where the Appalachian Mountains run, as well as the eastern Canadian province of Quebec. Here we’ll take a closer look at ramps and reveal some of their many uses and properties.
Some Interesting Facts About Ramps
You might be surprised to learn that the city of Chicago was actually named after this plant. During the 1600s, there was a dense growth of ramps around the Lake Michigan area. French explorer René-Robert Cavelier took notice of the large amounts of ramps and wrote about them in his diary. However, he mistakenly assumed they were another onion known as “shikaakwa” by the local tribes; thus, leading to the city being named “Chicago.”
There are numerous ramp festivals held in cities and communities throughout the country. Elkins, West Virginia is one such city that throws an annual “Ramps and Rails Festival” during the last week of April. It draws large crowds into the hundreds who come to participate in cook-offs using this wild onion. The Native Americans of North Carolina throw their own festival called the “Ramp It Up! Festival” where they also cook food and celebrate this delicious onion.
Why Are Ramps So Popular?
Unless you’ve tasted one for yourself, you might be wondering just why in the world so many people are interested in ramps. After all, there are dozens of seemingly similar onions growing in the wild, so what’s all the fuss about? Well, ramps have a delicious flavor and aroma that most people compare to a mixture of white onions with garlic. You can sautee them in a pan with some butter, olive oil or animal fat to give them even more flavor.
Ramps can be used as an ingredient in a variety of dishes, including hamburgers, eggs, meatloaf, pasta, salads and countless other foods. Ramps are also eaten raw without any other ingredients.
Ramps are one of the earliest spring-blooming plants in the wild. If you find yourself in one of the eastern states where they grow, look directly under shaded patches of forests for them. Ramps prefer to grow in the semi-shaded areas underneath the cover of trees. They tend to grow and spread in drifts. When harvesting be sure not to pull out too many from one area because it takes years for them to regenerate.