For me the very best thing about springtime in West Virginia is the advent of ramps. I won't spend a lot of time here discussing ramps. You can find a lot of such discussion here, here and here.
I will, though, state my belief that ramps have an undeserved reputation. I have had the following discussion with many, many people over the years:
Me: Do you like ramps?
Them: [snarles up nose] Eeeww, no!
Me: Have you ever tried them?
Them: I don't want to, they smell terrible.
Me: Have you ever smelled them?
Them: I'm not sure, but I know they smell awful.
Me: So try some!
Them: No, that's OK.
Now if you are reading this and have never had ramps you are probably saying to yourself "eew, yuck, a post about ramps." To you I have but one thing to say: Try them. They are the most wonderfully delicious delicacy that eminates from our hills (OK, except for hot dogs).
Let's be honest: Ramps smell no worse than onions or garlic. If you were to cook a big pot of garlic in the same quanity that people typically cook ramps the odor would be very strong and hover in the house for days. And the flavor of ramps is absoulutely worth any lingering smell they create.
And don't tell me that they make people who eat them smell any worse than garlic does, I'm not buyin' it.
So, how best to cook ramps? While there are many, many ways I'd like to share my favorite recipe. This is a classic ramp dish that has no name as far as I know but George Tuttle, chef extraordinaire, used to sell a similar dish at the now-defunct and vanished Corner Restaurant on Charleston's West Side. He called it a "Ramp Sampler":
Here's what you need for a single hearty serving:
- 2 slices of bacon
- two eggs
- 6 to 12 ramps (depends on how mature the plants are and how strong you like your dish)
- 1 medium potato
- black pepper
While your bacon is cooking prepare your ramps by cutting off the bulbs...
then cut off any parts of the stems that have a reddish color (the red parts are a little bitter when they are cooked).
Cut the leaves into 1" pieces.
Chop the ramp bulbs into small pieces.
Chop the potato into small pieces. Smaller size pieces will cook quicker and be more tender. You can peel the potato but I prefer to leave the skin on.
After the bacon is brown on both sides, pour off excess grease.
"Excess," of course, is a personal preference. Some grease (about a tablespoon) will be necessary for the next step, but some people like to leave all the grease in the pan.
Put the potatoes and ramp bulbs in the pan with the bacon and cook in the remaining bacon grease. Cook until the potatoes begin to tenderize and brown slightly.
Add a liberal sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper now. You can add more to taste after cooking.
Do Not Skip This Step! With a few drips of water, deglaze the pan. Add enough water to coat the entire bottom of the pan.
Add the ramp greens and stir, continue to cook over medium heat.
Add eggs and stir until they are completely cooked.
Remove from heat as soon as the eggs are done.
Place the concoction on a Fiestaware plate and you have yourself an authentic West Virginia breakfast, lunch or dinner! Man, oh man, is it good.
And the best part is that for the next 12 - 24 hours the lingering aroma will remind you of the goodness every time you enter your house.
As I said before, I love Spring!