Ramps Aren't Rampant in Houston

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From the mailbag, a reader request for ramps:

Ramps, which are basically wild leeks, are widely available in other parts of the country in the spring. Where can Houstonians find lovely spring vegetables like ramps, fiddleheads, etc? Tried Trader Joe's, no luck. Houston needs our ramps!

Sorry to say, but ramps are pretty hard to find in Houston to begin with -- especially this late in the season. Calls to Revival Market, Whole Foods and Central Market all netted the same response: No ramps. Maybe next year.

Ramps are -- as our reader explained -- wild leeks that grow from South Carolina all the way north to Canada, and which have the flavor of sweet spring onions crossed with deeply pungent garlic. They first came to the United States from Europe (the ramps' native home) and even the name itself was imported from England.

As writer and botanist Earl L. Core explained in an oft-cited 1973 article called "Cult of the Ramp Eaters" for the Charleston Gazette-Mail: "The name ramps (usually plural) is one of the many dialectical variants of the English word ramson, a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), a broad-leaved species of garlic much cultivated and eaten in salads, a plant related to our American species."

That ramp-eating cult Core described is still alive and well 40 years later, and has intensified in those four decades to include ramp-eating festivals across the southeastern U.S. -- especially in the Appalachian region, where the allium is still considered a cure for winter-borne illnesses and maladies. There are even concerns that ramp fever is so pitched, the plant is becoming overharvested.

Unfortunately, the ramp also has a short growing season and won't tolerate our hot weather down in Texas. That means if you do see ramps in Houston, it'll be at the very beginning of spring and only for a limited time -- so grab them up while you can.

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