Things are ramping up at farmers tailgate markets! We’ve spotted several much-anticipated spring fruits and vegetables in the past week, including the first strawberries, asparagus, and, yes, ramps.
Ramp mania has been going strong for several years, from foragers who fiercely protect their secret patches to chefs who dream up creative ways to use them. Also called wild leeks, ramps are a longstanding spring tradition in the Appalachian mountains, but have now been overharvested to the point of endangerment. At farmers markets, look for sustainably harvested ramps, which have been cut cleanly above the roots. You can get them right now from Wild Goods at East Asheville Tailgate Market.
Ramps have a strong aroma and garlicky-onion flavor. They can be made into pesto, pickled, fermented, grilled, sautéed, and more. Add them to dishes like omelets, pasta, or soup. Or try an infused oil to preserve ramp flavors long past April. For a richly green oil, combine two cups of ramp tops (just the green parts) in a blender with one cup oil and half a teaspoon of salt. A mild oil, like sunflower, will let the ramp flavor shine through, but you can also use olive oil. Pour the puree into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Strain slowly through cheesecloth without pressing. Store ramp oil in a glass jar or bottle in the fridge. Use it as a salad dressing, for dipping bread, to drizzle over soup, or whatever sounds good to you.
If ramps aren’t your thing, there are a few other unique offerings in the allium family available at farmers markets right now. Lee’s One Fortune Farm has onion scapes, which are the flowering stalks at the tip of the plant—similar to garlic scapes, which will be available later in the spring. Use onion scapes in herb sauces or as you would scallions. Two Trees Farm (also known as the Sustainabillies) and Wild Goods have black garlic. Black garlic is simply regular garlic that has been aged for one to two months at a certain temperature and humidity. The result is black cloves with a chewy texture and molasses-like flavor. You can spread it on toast or pizza, serve it with a cheese plate, or add it to dressings or sauces. Find the Lees at Asheville City, East, West, and River Arts District markets and the Sustainabillies at Asheville City Market.
At farmers markets now you’ll also find mushrooms, carrots, parsnips, turnips, radishes, winter greens like kale, spinach, broccoli rabe, and bok choy, as well as tender lettuce and baby greens. Markets are also stocked with a variety of meats, cheese, rice, pasta, pastries, drinks, and prepared foods. Find more details about farms and markets throughout the region in ASAP’s online Local Food Guide.