A Rich History of Ramps

Ramps are plentiful in the Mountain State, thriving down in the hollows and on the tops of mountains. They’re hardy, they’re filling, and most importantly for many people inhabiting these hills one hundred years ago – they’re free.

The early Appalachinans relied on the land not only for food, but also for medicinal purposes as reliable medical care was often unavailable to mountain folk. According to the American Folklife Center, the ramp was thought to cleanse the blood and provide protections against viruses through its mineral and Vitamin C rich leaves. Many people today still rely on members of the onion family for these properties.

As for its flavor, the ramp is the most lovely fusion of garlic and onion together. They are known for their potent smell, but cooked in small batches, the scent dissipates quickly.

In their most traditional preparation, ramps are fried in bacon grease with ham, brown beans and cornbread. This is how they’re most frequently found in Appalachia during ramp dinners which pop up all across West Virginia in the spring.

Ramps gained popularity in Richwood, W.Va., at ramp feeds. Then, they started to appear in cookbooks often associated with “hillbilly” or “redneck” recipes. However, the tides started to turn for the humble ramp in the 80s and 90s when ramp dinners continued to explode across the east coast and they made their way into high ticket restaurants in New York. The ramp, now rebranded as a “wild leek” or “spring onion,” became a key ingredient in pestos and remoulades. They’re even considered an expensive vegetable outside of Appalachia.

“I started eating them when my cousin Lynn started to take me to ramp feeds, and we made it a yearly tradition,” Mineral Wells resident Gale Daggett said. “They’re like onions, but put a little vinegar and salt and pepper, and eat them with everything else, but you don’t want to eat too many at once.”

Ramp feeds often serve as fundraisers and a few can see up to 1000 people – particularly in the southern part of the state. However, you can always dig your own, find them on roadside stands or purchase them from local ramp diggers.

Now, to borrow some wisdom from Ina Garten, “if you can’t go dig your own ramps, that’s okay. Purchased from the Facebook Marketplace is just fine.” This is exactly what I did. They came to me freshly dug, dirt still intact and only $5 per pound. A pound of ramps is a hefty amount of ramps. I bought two pounds, made a pound of butter, fried some for breakfast and made a ramp quiche. Even with that, I probably gave away another pound.

To be clear, this recipe is not on the menu of a ramp feed. However, it’s a great brunch recipe that honors the Appalachian love of the ramp. This ramp quiche is the perfect infusion of smokey bacon and garlicky onion goodness.

Ramp Quiche : Serves 8

First, you must clean your ramps really well. Remember, these just came out of the ground and there will likely be dirt hiding in every section of the vegetable. You’ll also need to cut off the ends. They might have a translucent skin – peel that off too. Set them aside to dry. Go ahead and preheat your oven to 400°.

Now is a great time to start frying your bacon. I used a cast-iron skillet and I swear that’s the best way to prepare bacon. Fry until chewy and save your bacon drippings. Set your bacon aside so it can cool.

Take nine of your ramps and separate the white section from the green section. Set the leaves aside.

Chop your mushrooms and the root of the ramp and add them to the skillet with the bacon grease. Throw inyour garlic now too. Saute until the vegetables are tender. Set aside and allow to cool.

Roll your pie crust out. Dice the leaves of your ramps and add to a medium sized bowl. In that bowl, combine the diced leaves, cheese, and salt and pepper.

Once your skillet vegetables are cooled, add them to the mixing bowl with the cheese. Dump the bacon in as well.

Add that entire mixing bowl to the crust.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, heavy cream, and seasoned salt. Pour over top of your quiche filling. You’ll need to use a spatula to really work the egg mixture down into the filling. Decorate your quiche with the remaining three ramps.

Put your quiche in the oven at 400° for 15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 300° for an additional 40-50 minutes – you’ll want to use a pie shield or tin foil on your crust for the remainder of your bake as well.

Allow to cool 20-30 minutes before serving, it should be warm, but not hot.

Ingredients

  • 1 Pie crust
  • 9 ramps + 3 for decoration
  • 18 mushrooms (I used white, but any would work)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1.5 cup heavy whipping cream cream
  • 2 cups cheese (I used a Gruyere and Swiss blend, use your favorite)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp minced garlic

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°
  2. Prepare your ramps by cleaning them really well and cutting off the ends. They might have a translucent skin – peel that off too. Set them aside to dry.
  3. Roll out your pie crust into a 9-inch deep dish pie plate – you can make your own crust, buy one, whatever – it’s not the star here anyway
  4. Fry the bacon until chewy, set aside to cool, and save the drippings
  5. Take nine of your ramps and separate the leaves from the bulb (the white part). Dice the root and separately dice the stems.
  6. Dice your mushrooms
  7. Add the diced mushroom, diced bulb, and garlic to the skillet with the bacon drippings. Saute until tender, then set aside to cool
  8. Combine ramp leaves, cheese, bacon, and cooled vegetables in one bowl
  9. Spread the cheese mixture in the pie plate
  10. Whisk together the eggs, heavy whipping cream, salt, and pepper
  11. Pour the egg mixture over the pie crust using a spatula to allow it to soak in nicely
  12. Bake the quiche at 400° for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 300° and bake for an additional 40-45 minutes (you may want to use a pie shield or wrap foil around your crust to prevent burning) or until a toothpick inserted two inches from the center comes out clean
  13. Allow it to cool 20-30 minutes before enjoying
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