Ramping Up for Spring

If you don’t regularly frequent your local farmers market, read Edible Cleveland, or often find yourself in the woods foraging for unfamiliar things to eat, you may not know about ramps. Also known as wild leeks, wild garlic, spring onions, and ramsons, ramps are perennial wild onions that have a strong garlic flavor and odor. They look very much like scallions but with broad leaves that are also edible and they can be found throughout the eastern United States and Canada. They are particularly abundant in Appalachia, where festivals in Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina have been celebrating the ramp for decades.

The ramp, interestingly enough, also grows in Northern Ohio, although our relationship with the “little stinker” isn’t as profound as it is with our southeastern Ohio neighbors. Ramps have only had a greater presence at farmers markets and restaurant menus over the past few years, and I think it’s still safe to say that many people in this part of Ohio aren’t very familiar with them–yet.

That’s where the kind people of Peninsula, Ohio come in. They recognized the need to familiarize the region with this tasty vegetable and they did it by emulating our neighbors in Appalachia and starting a festival.

Located on the grounds of the Brandywine Country Club’s Brandy Wine Bar, Ramp Up Peninsula celebrates the ramp in a variety of ways.

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First, it sets up the festival atmosphere. Held at the end of April, this outdoor festival offers enough to keep festival-goers warm in case of chilly spring weather. Visitors can dance to great music entertainment, shop the selection of local arts and crafts, or warm their insides with a cocktail at Brandy Wine Bar.

Second, the festival educates visitors about the ramp with the help of presentations and cooking demonstrations. A representative from the Cuyahoga Valley National Park comes to teach visitors on how to forage in the national park and there are guided tours to help identify plants. The festival also hosts a variety of ramp-related cooking demonstrations, including appetizer suggestions and pickling.

Finally, Ramp Up Peninsula gives all festival-goers a full-on ramp taste bud explosion. Every booth that prepares food onsite is required to have something with ramps. Food trucks and booths sell dishes where ramps are made into pesto, relish, slaws, grilled sandwich toppings, and pierogi fillings. There are ramp bakery items, cheeses, and a variety of ramp condiments to take home, such as jellies, vinegars, and mustards. The bar, of course, sells Bloody Marys with a ramp garnish.

The most surprising ramp dish I’ve seen was offered by Peninsula’s own Grabham Candies, which offered the Rampenstein Nougat, a fruit and nut nougat, covered with chocolate, dried ramps, and sea salt. They also sold chocolate-covered pretzels and ramps, which were both delicious.

There are so many ramp products, in fact, that I seriously suggest looking through all the vendors’ product descriptions and menus before deciding what you are going to eat and/or take home. And, if you’re with a significant other, be sure that he or she is going as far into ramp consumption as you are. Otherwise, it could be a lonely night. You might take mints with you just to play it safe.