Each spring, for the past 22 years, hundreds of people and thousands of wild leeks come together in Singhampton. They do so at the village’s Ramp Romp, a celebration of the coming of spring and to raise funds for worthy community causes.
The story of Singhampton’s Ramp Romp began in response to an incident in the village back in 1983, a group of concerned local residents created the Fire Prevention Committee. At that time, fire and emergency response came from outside the village and most often came too late when called upon. Ramp Romp was created by the Committee as a fundraiser to establish a fire and emergency response for the community. Since its beginnings, funds raised at the event have provided fire extinguishers, a siren, and emergency response helping to realize the dream of better fire protection for the village. More recently, the proceeds from Ramp Romp have gone towards the operation of the Singhampton Community Centre.
The Earthly Ritual
Spring arrives in Singhampton a bit later that other parts, however, Ramp Romp takes place on the first Saturday in May. The many leek diggers keep their fingers crossed that by the time they enter the moist maple forests around the village for the ramp harvest that all the snow has melted and the warmth of spring has coaxed the tender green shoots from the ground. The leek diggers go back and forth into the forest many times to ensure there will be enough ramps for everyone at the dinner. Many afternoons and evenings are spent digging and cleaning thousands of leeks. In the week proceeding the dinner, a welcoming garlicky aroma starts to permeate Singhampton.
At the same time, community members are busy advertising the coming event and enlisting an army of locals to volunteer for other tasks needed on the day of Ramp Romp.
The Aromatic Event
The day of Ramp Romp arrives. Many have already been busy readying the village and Community Centre for the dinner.
A typical Ramp Romp feeds over 300 folk. To do this requires 160 lbs of roast pork, 59 kilos of scalloped potatoes, 1300 ounces of baked beans, 8 liters of applesauce, 5.25 cubic feet of dinner rolls, hundreds of pickles, 7 cases of spring greens, 60 homemade pies and a volume of mustard. Accompanying these are an estimated 21,618 steamed leeks and almost 3,000 fresh, raw ramps. This culinary collaboration requires oodles of volunteers and a healthy amount of cooperation amidst the distinctive aroma of ramps.
This year’s event will take place on Saturday May 6th. Dinner is served from 4 pm to 7 pm. Then there will be a quick clean-up and re-organizing of the Centre for “The Romp”, live music and entertainment, starting about 9 p.m. Tickets for the dinner and Romp are only $12 for adults, $10 for students and the dinner is free for children under 6 years who come with an adult.
The Big Ramp Dig
Starting this year, you can join us and find out how to identify and harvest wild ramps. On Sunday April 30th, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. you can be part of the Big Dig in preparation for this year’s Ramp Romp. Simply call 705-444-0557 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your “spade” for the dig and get details on where to meet.
In springtime, ramps are easily identified as they are the first greens to emerge from the ground in hardwood forested areas sometime from late March to early May. The wild leeks that you are looking for should have 2 to 3 broad, smooth green leaves with an unmistakable garlic onion odor. The leaves should come directly from the ground and are not connected to any sort of stem or trunk. The stems just above the ground should start to turn a maroon color and connect to a white bulb with hair-like roots in the moist soil. During the summer and fall, ramps will not longer be able to be identified by their leaf structures. During this time of year the wild leeks will be in the flowering stage. To identify leeks look for a small maroon colored stalk connected to a typical onion family flower. Traditional wild onions will have a pink to purple flowers while wild leeks will have white flowers.
When harvesting good ramps there are a few key features you should look for in the plants. First off wild leeks should have two or three bright green leaves with the small white bulb attached by a maroon stem. The key is to find leeks that are as fresh as possible. Yellowing or withering in the leaves is a sign that these particular leeks have been in the ground too long. Ideally the leaves should be around 6 inches long and 2 inches wide, for the mildest flavor. You should be careful on the amount of leeks you intend on harvesting from one patch.
Small patches of leeks can be over-harvested leaving nothing for the upcoming season. Depending on what you plan on using the leeks for, you might just harvest the leaves leaving the bulb in the ground. Selective harvesting in this way is a good idea, as the remaining bulbs will sprout new leaves the following year.
In most cases when you harvest ramps they will be muddy and will need to be cleaned and trimmed. Taking the time to properly clean and identify each leek that you have picked is a wise choice. A papery wrapper leaf (and some dirt) may surround the bulb when you pull the plants from the soil. This coating should be removed when you get the leeks home and begin to clean them up. Additionally any roots that were pulled with the plant should be trimmed off along with their button attachment. Be careful to look for any yellowing or slimy textures to the plants you have picked. If you happen to come across any leeks with these signs simply discard the leek and move on to the next. Once trimmed and cleaned the entire plant is ready for eating.
Storing Ramps and Wild Leeks
After you have cleaned and trimmed the leeks you have picked, store them in the refrigerator, as you would green onions. Because of their small size it is a good idea to pack them into a plastic bag so that they do not dry out. If you happen to have one of those nifty home vacuum sealer devices then a good idea would be to package up a few leeks together and freeze them for later use. With the leek leaves it is a good idea to use them as soon as possible after harvest.
Ramps or wild leeks can be used in a wide variety of uses in the kitchen. Wild leek's flavor is very similar to onions, particularly like scallions, but with a wilder touch and more intense earthy favour. For cooking they can be used interchangeably in any recipe that calls for scallions or green onions. Slicing leeks thin gives an amazing flavor twist to salads or stir-frys, while the more daring love their earthy flavor raw.
All in all these delicacies pop right up from the ground just asking to be pulled while out hiking or on your way home from fishing. Pluck them from the ground this year and try them as part of a most rewarding meal.
Recipes using Wild Leeks
1 bunch ramps
1 cup vegetable stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Wash the ramps thoroughly, trim the roots and cut into 1-inch pieces. Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the ramps, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the greens are wilted and the whites are tender. Add the stock and cook uncovered for 15 minutes. Remove to a bowl and allow to cool. Place in a blender, and puree adding additional oil to produce a smooth consistency. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Gently re-heat before serving. Serve this puree as a sauce for grilled meats or tofu.
Wild leeks bulbs
Clean and peel bulbs. Pack the peeled bulbs into a jar, cover them with 2 parts vinegar to1 part water and seal them. Store for 3 weeks. They are then ready to make an everyday meal, taste like a feast.
3-4 strips bacon
4 medium potatoes
12 ramps, chopped
Fry bacon until cooked through, remove bacon strips from pan. Thinly slice potatoes and fry in bacon drippings until soft. Add chopped ramps to potatoes and cook 2 minutes over medium heat. Mixing well while frying. Pour eggs over potatoes and ramps. Stir until egg are done. Serve with toast or cornbread. Makes 4 servings.
Ramp Lovers Hors D'oeuvres
1 8-oz package cream cheese
2 cups sour cream
20 fresh ramps
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Blanch 15 ramps including tops, cool, then chop finely and set aside. Whip sour cream and softened cream cheese together. Add cayenne pepper and salt. Add chopped ramps. Take remaining raw ramps, chop finely, and add to mixture. Serve with bite size pieces of French bread, pita or crackers.
Potato and Ramp Soup
4-6 slices bacon
4 cups chopped ramps (including greens)
4-5 cups diced red potatoes
3 tablespoons flour
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup of cream or milk (depending on how thick you want your soup)
salt & pepper, to taste
In a large Dutch oven, fry bacon until crispy. Set bacon aside. Add ramps and potatoes to the drippings; fry on medium-low heat until the ramps are tender. Sprinkle with flour; stir until flour is absorbed. Stir in chicken broth; simmer until potatoes are tender. Stir in the cream or milk and heat thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. For smoother soup, blend the mixture in a food processor. Serves 4 to 6.
Geoff Meadley and Suzanne Ainley
Singhampton Community Centre & Park Inc.