ASHEVILLE – Today’s question is about seasonal, foraged food ― ramps. Do you have a question for Answer Man or Answer Woman? Email Executive Editor Karen Chávez at [email protected] and your question could appear in an upcoming column.

Question: Where can I find ramps in Asheville? What restaurants are serving them? Are there any ramp recipes?

Answer: It’s ramp season and folks across Western North Carolina celebrate the seasonal delicacy from the forests to their plates.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) is a plant native to the eastern North American Mountains, including the Appalachians, known for its garlicky flavor and similarities to onions and leeks.

“There’s a lot of cultural history associated with ramps. For thousands of years, ramps are one of the earlier spring edible crops that emerge from the forest so early people, early settlers have always turned to ramps as a food source as one of the first plants that come up in the spring,” Meghan Baker, a small farms agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, a research and education organization and an arm of North Carolina State University.

Efren Barraza holds bunches of ramps at his produce stand at the WNC Farmers Market, April 17, 2024.

Efren Barraza holds bunches of ramps at his produce stand at the WNC Farmers Market, April 17, 2024.

In modern days, Baker said ramps have become a culturally significant plant that’s easy to identify and increasingly more small farms and home gardeners are cultivating and drawn to them because of their unique flavor.

Ramps are sprouting up on restaurant menus and farmers markets, and culinary gurus are finding innovative ways to incorporate them into items like seasonings and butter.

One doesn’t have to be a forager to have fun and savor the flavor of ramps. There are many ways to commemorate ramp season in Asheville and the greater Western North Carolina region.

Foraging

Ramp season, considered mid-April to mid-May, is the ideal time to harvest them, but their peak time is weather-dependent. Baker said ramps favor forests’ natural environment for its rich soil, moisture, leaf litter and organic matter.

“You don’t want to harvest them too small because they don’t have enough flavor,” said Dibe Duckett, WNC Farmers Market assistant manager. “When they get really big and the tops start dying, they get very hot. It’ll burn your mouth.”

Baker said ramps take five to 7 years to grow. Improper harvesting can destroy a ramp patch and endanger the species.

Boxes of ramps at Efren Barraza’s produce stand at the WNC Farmers Market, April 17, 2024.Boxes of ramps at Efren Barraza’s produce stand at the WNC Farmers Market, April 17, 2024.

Boxes of ramps at Efren Barraza’s produce stand at the WNC Farmers Market, April 17, 2024.

“When you harvest, you always want to leave some in the patch. Never go in and take all of them. You want to leave at least 25% of what’s there standing so they’ll reproduce when they bloom out,” said Duckett, who urges forgers to get the necessary permits and permissions first.

Baker said a sustainable way to harvest ramps is to keep the roots in the ground.

“There is a growing trend, which we are encouraging people to harvest just the leaves rather than the entire plant,” Baker said. “It allows for a sustainable harvest that the root system is still in place. If you harvest one or two leaves from the plant and leave at least one leaf that allows at least the plant to continue to recharge its energy system.”

Festivals and farmers markets

Ellerslie McCue, WNC Farmers Market’s marketing and communications manager, said ramps may be found at farmers markets and produce stands across the region, like WNC Farmers Market in Asheville and TJ’s Mountain Market in Mars Hill.

Baker encourages consumers to ask ramp sellers about their growing and harvesting practices to promote sustainability.

Celebrate ramp season with fellow enthusiasts at these regional events.

From April 19-21, WNC Farmers Market will host its Spring Festival and Growing in the Mountain Plant Sale at 570 Brevard Road. On Saturday, McCue said there will be a ramp cookoff between participating food trucks with judges deciding the winning dish, which will be sold on the food truck throughout the day.

Ellerslie McCue, WNC Farmers Market’s marketing and communications manager, said ramps may be found at farmers markets and produce stands across the region, like WNC Farmers Market in Asheville and TJ’s Mountain Market in Mars Hill.Ellerslie McCue, WNC Farmers Market’s marketing and communications manager, said ramps may be found at farmers markets and produce stands across the region, like WNC Farmers Market in Asheville and TJ’s Mountain Market in Mars Hill.

Ellerslie McCue, WNC Farmers Market’s marketing and communications manager, said ramps may be found at farmers markets and produce stands across the region, like WNC Farmers Market in Asheville and TJ’s Mountain Market in Mars Hill.

The hours are 8 a.m.- 5 pm. Friday and Saturday and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday.

On April 21, Faery Glen Ramp Fest will begin at Noon at The Faery Glen Nature Retreat, 99 Tree House Lane in Burnsville.

On April 27, Ramp Fest 2024 will be from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. at City Drive-In (670 on Oak Tavern and Grille), 670 Oak Ave. in Spruce Pine.

On May 5, Waynesville Ramp Convention will be from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. at the American Legion Field, 171 Legion Drive in Waynesville. https://festivalnet.com/4846/Waynesville-North-Carolina/Festivals/Waynesville-Ramp-Convention

Restaurants

Many area restaurants revamp their spring menus to feature specials showcasing ramps in their food and beverages.

Eldr has a nettle spaghetti carbonara made with ramps, plus rye-crusted lamp chops featuring pickled ramps. Jargon added a stinging nettle and potato soup made with charred ramp oil. The Market Place is serving a ramp and new potato bisque soup.

Chestnut, 48 Biltmore Ave., will host its 5th annual “Ramp Up for Spring” 5-course dinner at 5:45-9 p.m. May 7 with dishes incorporating ramps and each course served with wine pairings. Tickets are $250 per diner at chestnutasheville.com/ramp-dinner.

This year’s chef lineup is Steven Goff (Tastee Diner), Ryan Kline (Jargon), Camille Cogswell (Walnut Family Bakery), Luis Martinez (Tequio Foods) and Brian Crow (Chestnut and Corner Kitchen) who will share details about their dishes and address the malpractice of foraging ramps.

The menu will include northeast oysters on the half shell, ramp-cured smoked Sunburst Trout Rangoon, a ramp scone, ramp taco, prosciutto ramp-wrapped NC monkfish, a parmesan ramp-crusted lamb rack and a ramp custard tart.

Ramp recipe

Check out local farmers markets and stores for locally produced items like Well Seasoned Table’s Wild Ramp Sea Salt.

Baker said at home, ramps can be dehydrated to make a ramp salt that can be preserved year-round. Or pickle them, as one would red onions, and refrigerate the ramp pickles. Or chop up the leaves and use them in place of basil on a pizza.

Katie Davis, marketing and communications manager for the WNC Farmers Market, said she enjoys making ramp pesto “to turn delicate, highly seasonal produce into a more stable ingredient that can be saved and enjoyed much longer than the fresh-picked form.”

Davis recommends serving the ramp pesto on pasta, eggs, bread, pizza, grilled or roasted meats, or any other dish instead of traditional pesto.

View the pesto ramp recipe on WNC Farmers Market’s Facebook page, facebook.com/WncFarmersMarket.

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Tiana Kennell is the food and dining reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Instagram @PrincessOfPage. Please support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Ramps sprouting up at WNC festivals, markets, restaurants

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