I got the zit to pop.
Let's talk food, shall we?
You know how, for a period, I was getting all Southern and countrified on your candy ass? Yeah, I guess we all get a little nostalgic for the place(s) we grew up every now and then. Trust me - I never thought I'd look back fondly on the place I left. I left for a reason...I hated it.
Okay, maybe hate isn't the right word. Basically, to use an analogy, I'm a tree. I'm a tree that was planted in a small pot, like a bonzai. I had to uproot myself and move to a bigger pot, and then actually to a wide-open field, in order to grow to my full size and be a happy tree. You know, like in a Bob Ross painting.
Some trees don't mind the small pots. In fact, some do better in confined conditions than they would out in the open. From the perspective of this tree, those smaller pots have a certain charm about them – but from the inside, it sure didn't seem that way.
BTW, I am a master at analogies.
Even though I grew up in the Mountain South, I never knew or appreciated the joys of ramps – aka wild leeks. However, I do have faded memories of pulling up wild onions from a field and eating them on the spot. If what I ate were ramps, I'll likely never know - since these are early memories of mine, memories that inhabit the same corner of my brain as knocking down sugarcane with my pal Douglas.
I'll be in the South next month, but unfortunately (due to my schedule) I'll be missing the ramp festivals that happen every Spring throughout Appalachia. But guess what?
We have ramps in Northern California!
Yeah, they grow wild. I found them for sale at Far West Fungi last Saturday. I think I surprised the manager, Ian Garrone, when I enquired about purchasing some. He must have been concerned with how quickly they'd move. According to him, the ramps are foraged in the wild around Arcata and Mendocino County. He also said they just started carrying them and that they should last for a couple of months.
Far West Fungi is one of my favorite places to shop in the Ferry Building. In my opinion, most of the shops in the Ferry Building are a bit pricey and unnecessary. However, there are several places I patronize that, while not cheap, are reasonably priced and well worth a visit by people who cook - namely, Prather Meat Co., Far West Fungi, Acme Bread, and sometimes Cowgirl Creamery. Oh, yeah – and the free chocolate samples at Recchiuti are always on my route.
Right now, ramps at Far West Fungi are priced at $20 per pound (I know, probably only worth it to you die-hard hillbilly transplants like me). However, as the season progresses, the price will fall to an average of $16 per pound – maybe less. Half a pound of ramps are enough for 2 people, especially if you serve them with eggs, fry them with bacon, and/or serve them with a side of pinto beans.
Ramps are a member of the onion family and they, as anyone who's ever eaten one or been around someone who has, are quite strong in flavor and aroma. If you love both garlic and onions, ramps are the perfect vegetable for you. The whole thing is edible, although the roots are usually discarded. They are usually dug up with a special instrument known as a "ramp hoe" who, when not harvesting ramps, is usually found in truck stop parking lots turning tricks.
Ramps are commonly fried in bacon grease and served with corn bread. They're also eaten with eggs. Ramps, cornbread, pinto beans, cured pork – this is traditional, American peasant food specific to the Appalachian Mountain region. This is the cuisine of my forbearers, which sadly is lost and unheard of to many members of my generation. My cousins, like myself, grew up with McDonalds, Hardees, and Burger King. We, like our parents, often eschewed cornbread and pinto beans for Sweet and Sour Pork, chimichangas, and stuffed-crust pizza – or the dominant pseudo-multiculture of American cuisine.
That is why, tonight, I'm cooking up these ramps with a vengeance. Indeed, the South shall rise again – only this time we prefer it does so covered with a sheen of bacon fat, and without exploiting and dividing poor whites and people of color for cheap labor...duh!
To prepare the ramps, wash under water very well. The leaves of the ramps often hide little grains of sand and dirt within them, so right when you think you've got them clean, wash once more. Afterwards, cut off the root ends. Next, cut the white parts of the ramps from the leafy green parts and then cut those into 2" pieces. Reserve to a glass or metal bowl.
Once those are prepared, fry up some bacon in a cast-iron skillet set on medium heat. It could be turkey bacon if you keep Kosher, Halal, or just don't like pork, but if you're vegetarian I suggest skipping this step altogether. I'm cooking up Wellshire Farms bacon bought from Whole Foods. This is a weird brand; their linguica is odd and overly smokey while their bacon has this black edge on it. Fortunately the bacon tastes good, but it's hard to tell when it's done or when it's just burnt.
Anyway, when the bacon is crisp, reserve to a paper towel lined plate. Once cool, cut the bacon into 2" strips and set aside.
Using the rendered bacon fat in the skillet, fry the white parts of the ramps. If you're vegetarian, you can substitute olive oil for the bacon fat. Once the ramps have softened up, toss them onto the leafy greens and then raise the heat to medium-high.
When the oil starts to smoke, remove from heat and spoon little by little onto the ramps to slightly wilt the leaves. In the other areas of the Appalachians – like the eastern part of Kentucky - they use lettuce in this recipe and call it Killed (or Kill't) Lettuce.
Using a pair of tongs, mix thoroughly and then season with a little salt and pepper. Mix in the bacon strips and then serve onto plates.
What an easy and quick dish to prepare! Once you get a taste of these, you'll see why they have such a strong following. It's surprising how flavorful and assertive this springtime vegetable can be. And it certainly has the ability to overshadow traditional, mild spring vegetables like artichokes, asparagus, celery, and fennel.
Perhaps the best part is you won't have to tell your friends and family that you just had big ol' plate of fried ramps.
They'll smell you coming.