We didn't know we had ramps until a tree fell on them. Who knows how long they've been growing in that little patch of woods between the meadow and the creek? Unnoticed, unappreciated, unloved--until a tree came down with a WHOMP and released from the forest floor the oniony scent of ramps.
For those unfamiliar with Appalachian cuisine, ramps are wild onions that grow in moist, silty soil. Their flavor is pungent, like a garlicky leek, and they are prized as accompaniments to eggs, bacon, or wild mushrooms.
We've overlooked that patch of ramps for who knows how long simply because they look so unassuming, their green tops resembling the early foliage of wild lilies, but as soon as we realized what we had, I started digging up recipes. Ramp risotto with asparagus and peas, ramp carbonara, cheddar biscuits with ramps and bacon, ramp and goat cheese tart--yum! We ought to have enough ramps for all those and more to give away. I had visions of myself waltzing pungently through academic buildings with a basket full of ramps, the Lady Bountiful of wild onions.
But first I had to pick them. There's nothing easier than picking onions--the ripe bulbs practically sit on surface of the soil, so you just give a little tug and up they come. Ramps, though, grow deeper and hold tighter to the soil, and the spot where they grow on our property has never been tilled or cultivated so the soil is tightly compacted and laced with roots.
"Just take a trowel, loosen up the dirt around the bulbs, and pull 'em up," said the resident green thumb, so down I went this morning to the ramp patch with my best trowel.
It was hard. Really hard. The soil was loosest next to the trench plowed out by the fallen tree, so I worked hard there jabbing the trowel into the soil, digging around rocks and roots. Sometimes I pulled too hard too soon and ended up with a handful of greens while the bulbs remained buried in the ground, and sometimes I simply couldn't work the trowel through all the roots and had to move on with empty (but dirty) hands.
I'd worked into a pretty good rhythm and nearly filled a small grocery bag when the trowel broke. Right in two. Blade in the ground, handle in my hand. That was the end of my first adventure in ramp-digging.
So I've got enough ramps to make some risotto tonight but you won't see the Lady Bountiful of ramps waltzing around campus today. Next time I'll take a shovel.